By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Unlike younger children, teens are more likely to take sides during and after a divorce. It’s not difficult to understand why this happens.
Teenaged children have been around the family dynamic longer than their younger siblings. They have more “history” with both parents and may have been favoring one over the other for quite some time. When a divorce comes into play, it may be quite natural for teens to align themselves with the parent who seems easiest to “get on with,” so to speak.
Their decision is impacted by many factors and questions. Does this parent grant me favors? Are they more tolerant of my behavior? Have they been the “good” parent in the marriage? Will they give me a better home life in the future? Do they have more money to spend on my desires? Do they have more power in the divorce equation? Will they assure I get to stay in the same neighborhood with my friends? Will they get me a car or other things I want? Will they be more lenient than my other parent?
The combination of attaining material needs along with ego gratification needs often propels teens to align with one parent over the other. This is especially true when one parent has more power or affluence than the other. Sometimes abusive parents “win” the favor of teens as a survival strategy, even when the abused parent is more loving and nurturing to them.
Here are 5 strategies to strengthen your bond with your teen:
- Unfortunately we often find teens expressing anger and resentment about the divorce. The unknown future brings up deep insecurities in us all. While it is hurtful to hear painful retorts like “I hate you!” keep in mind that over-dramatizing life is part of the teenage dynamic. Your child needs to be consoled and heard, acknowledging their right to express their frustration. Let go of your self-righteousness and put your attention instead on trying to see the world from your teen’s point of view.
- Sadly, during a contentious divorce, teens can easily be influenced by their other parent not to respect, trust or love you. This can be due to your spouse trying to win them over to his or her side. Often that involves turning your teen into a confidant and trying to develop more of a friend relationship than a parenting relationship with them.
- These types of behaviors create distance and distrust for you that can seriously impair your parent-child bond. It’s a form of parental alienation, which is always hard to counter.
- The more you understand what your adolescent is experiencing, the more compassion you can have for them. That makes it easier for you to step up to being the parent they need. Remember, you are always a role model to your kids. They need to feel your unconditional love, especially during and after a divorce. They may be testing you or may genuinely feel you have hurt their other parent. Your teen may also be torn with guilt regarding supporting either parent through the divorce.
- How you handle today’s challenges will affect your long-term relationship with your teen. So don’t stand on your soapbox. Show your empathy, compassion and the ability to turn the other cheek. That’s the parent they need to see — and the one they will gravitate towards over time if you are sincere and can be patient.
If you’re overwhelmed or confused, I highly recommend seeking out a support system — a therapist, divorce group or coach – to help you unravel your challenges. A professional will help you step up to taking the “high road” on an issue, even when it’s not always fair to you. Keep in mind the choices you make today will affect your relationship with your teenager for decades to come.
So think before you act. Focus on your deep love for your child. And remember, he or she didn’t create this tremendous life-altering experience. You and your spouse did. The kids are always innocent. An adolescent is not emotionally prepared for handling this drama, so give your teen some flack and also step up to being the mature, reasonable adult.
Whenever possible, I suggest talking to your soon-to-be ex about this. Discuss your feelings and concerns as well as the consequences for your teen to be alienated from you. Identify the advantages when both of you take the high road together on what’s best for your child.
At the same time, be aware that you can’t count on your ex to help you initiate the changes you desire. Don’t wait for your spouse to do the right thing. Your future relationship with your teen is up to you. Be alert to alienating behavior. Be there for your child and also be patient and loving. Assertive confidence is more likely to earn your teen’s respect and they will come to thank you down the line!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to: childcentereddivorce.com/book