Raising a teen is sometimes considered to be one of the hardest parts of being a parent. Raising a teen when you’re divorced just raises the bar exponentially. How do you set rules, enforce them, and monitor behavior if you and your ex aren’t on the same page?
Decide What Matters at Your House
You are the one who sets the rules at your house. You get to decide what’s acceptable, what’s expected and how things are going to work. As a single parent, you have the freedom to make those rules completely on your own, and your ex gets to do that at his or her house as well.
But what if your house rules aren’t the same? You and your ex had different parenting styles when you lived in the same house and that hasn’t changed, but it might just be more apparent now because you aren’t working together to compromise on a daily basis.
If you are able to, talk to your ex about basic rules for your teen and try to come up with some you agree on. Hopefully you can at least agree on the big ones: things like expectations for school work, appropriate language and respect, and non-tolerance for drugs and alcohol. (And if you can’t agree on these rules, you need to consider whether your spouse’s laxity is a danger and consult with your attorney).
Beyond this, you need to decide how important it is to you to run your own ship versus creating some kind of consistency for your child. You might need to compromise your standing a bit so that you and your ex can at least share some common ground.
No Agreement at All
If your ex doesn’t want to work with you in any way, the only thing you can do is set up rules that work at your house. You’ll have to explain to your teen that in your home, your rules apply. Yes, it might be hard for your teen to go between two homes where the standards are different, but the rules at home and school are different (and so are the rules at home and at Grandma’s house or at home and at friends’ houses), and teens can navigate that. Keep your perspective: it is not the end of the world no matter how much your teen tells you it is.
Talk About Your Choices
How do you avoid being the bad guy if your rules are stricter (or at least perceived as stricter)? It can help to explain your rationale to your teen, so you don’t seem like an iron fist. Explain why you’ve made the choices you have and why the rules you have are what feel most comfortable to you. It is important to try to actually talk to your teen instead of just dictating commandments.
Talk about the goals and hopes you have for him and how you think these rules are the best way to move toward those goals. Talk about your values and how the rules reflect these. It also doesn’t hurt to ask for your teen to offer his opinion. It is usually easier to parent if you can hear how your rules make your child feel.
The Undermining Ex
If you have an ex who has adopted the hobby of trying to undermine everything you do, all you can do is stick to your guns and hold fast to your rules. It does not help to curse out your ex in front of your teen, but you can say that you have different opinions. When your teen is an adult, he or she can decide what works in his or her home. For now, each parent gets to have their own standards.
Is there going to be some resentment? Yes. And will you believe that your ex has purposely driven a wedge between you and your teen? Yes. It’s not fair and it’s not fun, but you have to move forward with what you believe in.
You can reduce some conflict by taking yourself out of the equation when it comes to what happens at your ex’s house. Stop trying to get your teen to follow your rules at your ex’s house. It’s not going to happen. Stop trying to tell your ex how to parent – all that does is create an even bigger rift. You have to accept that you don’t like the way things are run there, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Stop asking, stop judging, stop feeling hurt, and only get involved if you feel your teen is in danger or is in an environment that is detrimental enough for the court to want to intervene. It’s not easy to do and it takes a lot of deep breathing, but your teen is going to make it through and become a self-sufficient and wonderful adult.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner, How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest, The Complete Divorce Guide and The No-Fight Divorce Book. Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.