Parenting can prove stressful at times even under the best circumstances.
But throw divorce and a struggling teen into the mix and that stress level can increase exponentially. Hostility between former spouses, added to emotional exhaustion, rapidly leaks over into parenting roles.
“Separation and divorce can be a very bitter thing, and sometimes it’s everything a parent can do not to undermine their co-parent,” says Dr. Tim R. Thayne, a marriage and family therapist and author of Not By Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and After Treatment (www.drtimthayne.com).
“I get that. But it’s crucial that parents determine to put any animosity aside when it comes to co-parenting their children–for the good of the children–even if they can’t quite do it for each other yet.”
Parenting is so much about teamwork, even if mom and dad are divorced and don’t feel like a team much of the time, Thayne says.
To make things work – especially when a child is struggling in adolescence – the parents should:
- Be committed to compromise. Do this even if the other co-parent seems unwilling to give any ground. Though you both may want to stubbornly stick to your views, if you can move even one degree towards your co-parent, by doing your part to first bridge the gap, your co-parent likely will have a one degree change in attitude as well. “Remember, it takes two people to maintain a cycle and only one to break it,” Thayne says.
- Communicate regardless of how difficult that is. Discuss openly with your co-parent your mutual vision for your children and for your co-parenting relationship. This may take a trusted shared friend or a professional to help you identify your mutual expectations of your son or daughter as a foundation for a future co-parenting plan.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of displaying parental unity. Even when the parents are happily married, teens are adept at utilizing any gap they find in parental unity, Thayne says. They will ask for permission to do something from the parent who doesn’t know the other parent has previously grounded the teen. They will badger the more lenient parent when the firm parent isn’t around. “If one parent is more inclined than the other to say yes to a request, children will have that figured out by the age of 2,” Thayne says. “Even if the pattern of co-parenting is more complementary, they will, in time, find a weakness or divide to exploit.” To co-parent effectively, he says, you must find ways to maintain and display a united front.
“Obviously, if the other parent is not in the picture, you have a lonelier load to bear, so find others who can provide a good sounding board for your parenting concerns,” Thayne says. “But at the very least, remember that parenting is primarily about the well-being of your child, and not necessarily of your co-parent. I have seen boulder-sized animosity shrink to the size of a pea almost overnight as a result of one person’s humility and willingness to change.”
About Tim R. Thayne, Ph.D.
Dr. Tim R. Thayne, a marriage and family therapist, is author of Not By Chance: How Parents Boost Their Teen’s Success In and Out of Treatment (www.drtimthayne.com).