Flexibility is especially important as your children enter their teen years. Teenagers are self-centered. Teenagers are fickle. Teenagers tend to see their parents for what they can offer–a wallet (money), a fridge (food, food, and more food), a bed (a place to sleep all day) and a car (with you as either their personal chauffeur or the “giver of the car keys”).
Don’t mistake your teenager’s struggle for independence, or his or her desire to spend more time with friends or on the Internet, for symptoms of your divorce. As children reach their early or mid-teens, their peer groups become essential to their lives. They don’t care about Mom’s time or Dad’s time; they just care about their own time. Their whole life focuses around their friends, which is normal–their primary focus is on themselves.
Many parents also complain that their children never let them know ahead of time what they will be doing, but that may be because the children themselves do not really know; that’s not how children make their plans. They get on their computers, they instant message each other, and the plan emerges, sometimes within a space of fifteen minutes. All of a sudden, they are busy and on their way to join up with friends.
Teenage behavior can be hard to take sometimes. The teen years can be especially hard for noncustodial parents. If you live an hour away from your child’s primary residence, where his or her school and peer group are, that makes it tough for the teenager to really enjoy his or her time at your home. As difficult as it may be for the noncustodial parent, most times that parent needs to take a backseat role to the person who is the custodial parent.
Here are some tips to stay connected with your teens:
- Offer to drive them to their friends.
- Check in with your kids via their cell phones and e-mail accounts to just to say, “What’s up?”; “How was your day?”; and so forth. Checking in helps ensure that you have as much input with your kids as their friends do.
- Be flexible; be an open door. Invite kids over either after school or for a few hours on the weekend, or just to have dinner, rather than for the full evening or weekend. You can say, “You are welcome the entire weekend, but I won’t be upset if you want to be with your friends; you tell me if it fits in. If not, and you want to be with your friends, I’ll drive you.” If you pressure your kids to give up time with their friends in order to be with you, it will only backfire, causing your children to avoid you.
Try not to think in terms of minutes and hours;
think in terms of the quality of the relationship
you are building and sustaining.
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