3-way conflict? Get you, your teenager and your ex- all on the same page
Teenagers are already dealing with a lot of change. Raising teenagers after a marriage has ended can be challenging for parents. So adapting to all of the above can be a real struggle for teenagers who must divide their life into two parts, depending on which household they’re in.
The extent of the difficulties will often depend on the level of hostility. But even when parents have separated amicably, it’s likely there’ll be some hassles. If any of the following sound familiar, your family isn’t alone:
“I FORGOT TO PACK MY SPORTS UNIFORM”
From a strictly practical point of view, one of the main issues for teens is what clothes and possessions to keep where! Carting piles of stuff back and forward can be exhausting, but it may not be financially possible to have a duplicate set of everything. It’s no fun for anyone to find out at 11pm that some vital piece of equipment is back at Mum or Dad’s place on the other side of town. If this happens, though, try to put yourself into your teenager’s shoes before you react. More to the point, put systems in place to avoid the problem. Good communication and advance planning by both parents and your teenager working as a team can really help here, and that means regular conversations to avoid being taken by surprise.
“WHO’S PICKING ME UP?”
For once, you’ll be happy to have your teenager glued to their mobile technology as you can send reminders like “Don’t forget to bring… this weekend” or to check on arrangements such as “I have 6pm down for picking you up… is that still okay?”.
Allow for some reasonable flexibility if arrangements need to change and try not to react emotionally. (Be prepared for your teenager to send their responses in far fewer characters and with an emoji or two :) ).
“MUM…AH, I MEAN, DAD”
Imagine if you had two jobs that were completely different. One boss expected you to be an extroverted, creatively-dressed ideas powerhouse doing sales presentations while the other wanted you to be a suit-wearing accountant who worked quietly at their desk. Both are perfectly valid ways of working, but can you imagine having to constantly shift gears as you went from one job to the other?
Negotiating the ‘re-entry’ of a teenager after they’ve spent time with the other parent can be a high-risk time for conflict. Try including some ‘space’ between leaving the realm of one parent and entering the realm of the other. So, for example, after spending the weekend with Dad, going to school on Monday before heading home to Mum’s place can make the transition easier.
If the transfer is more immediate, it can be a good idea to meet in a neutral setting such as a café, park or shopping centre. This avoids the ‘ex’ having to come to the home where there might be a new partner in residence. It also provides the opportunity for the receiving parent to reconnect and as part of that, remind the teenager of that parent’s expectations and rules.
SMOOTHING OUT THE BUMPS
With everyone working on the basis that it’s a team effort, and putting some thought into forward planning, you can smooth out some of the bumps and create relationships that function pretty well, most of the time. You and your ex-partner will also be role-modelling for your teenager how to use practical strategies to remove potential flashpoints from what could otherwise be high-conflict situations, and that’s a great life lesson.
PART 2: Ways to take the fight out of parenting your teen with your ex