By Brette McWhorter Sember
If you and the other parent divorced while your child was younger,
the teen years can present some challenges in terms of your visitation
schedule. A schedule that worked for an elementary school age child
is not going to fit a teen. And, if you and the other parent have
split during your child's teenage years, it can be difficult to devise
a plan that will work for everyone involved simply because the teenage
years are so difficult to parent during.
But Not Big Enough
The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot
like adults, but they aren't yet completely mature. They still need
to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved
in their lives. Teens are working hard at learning to be independent,
and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does
not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands
and say "there's nothing we can do." It can be difficult
to continue to parent someone who doesn't want to be parented, but
that's your job right now.
Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential
to teens. If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts
your child's ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you'll
end up with is resentment. Instead, you need to try to create a
balance in your teen's life. He or she should have plenty of time
to do the things that matters to him, but he's also got to make
some room for spending time with his parents.
you all lived in one house you probably did not tell your daughter
she had to skip the field hockey game because you wanted to spend
time with her. You didn't tell your son he couldn't hang out with
friends on Friday night because your spouse wanted to spend time
the divorced parent of a teen, you've got to flex the parenting
schedule to incorporate the things that make your kid who he is.
If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a
dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take
the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available
time with him. You need to find a balance between your teen's need
to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.
Since teens schedules are busy and your and the other parent's schedules
are also probably pretty packed, it's important to agree to some
kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For
example, decide that you'll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial
parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and
4 other evenings or afternoons - this is the flexible way to fit
in the "every other weekend and one night a week" plan
into a busy life. Fit parenting times in where they go the easiest.
Be creative with your time sharing. Take turns taking your daughter
to basketball practice. Have one parent commit to teaching him how
to drive. Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or
cheerleader activities. Some parents have a hard time being so flexible
because it feels like a loss of control. In fact it is just the
opposite - you set a minimum and then work with your child to make
it work for everyone. It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the
end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and
he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.
Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain
a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, and
instant messenging. Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time
staying connected during the teen years - teens certainly aren't
know for being open with their parents! And, if a family divorced
when the daughter was 7, she's a very different person at 15 and
it can be hard to stay in the loop. Find out about her interests
and activities and make yourself a part of them - either by showing
up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive
the teen years requires a mutual understanding - you take your teen's
life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as
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 (published by McGraw-Hill),
How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child's Best
Interest (published by Sourcebooks) and No-Fight Divorce: Spend
Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill).
Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.