Divorced non-custodial parents often find that they struggle to maintain healthy relationships with their children, especially during the adolescent years. Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf weighs in on this issue by suggesting that you find a balance between smothering your teens and abandoning them.
Author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager, Wolf says that it is par for the course for teenagers to assert their independence by rebelling regardless of whether or not their parents are happily married or divorced. Teens would rather be hanging out with their friends than going to the mall with you.
The Added Challenge of Divorce
However, the additional hurdle comes when the children feel like they need to or should pick a side with feuding parents. The other alternative would be for them to wait it out in the ambiguous middle, which can be confusing and painful. Teenagers may blame the parent who they think was in the wrong. Furthermore, the children tend to side with the parent they are living with – often the mother – and that can increase the emotional distance as well.
Creating a Balance
All hope is not lost though. It is important not to pester your children too much, especially during adolescence when they are trying to prove that they are not children. You don’t want to keep pushing your children because they will push back. That is a battle neither of you will win.
Don’t turn a blind eye either. Always remember important dates like birthdays, holidays, big exams, and key school events. Call your children but not constantly. Suggest that you spend face-to-face time together but don’t force the issue. Even though it may be frustrating to make an effort which yields little positive response, you should continue to show interest in your children. Eventually they will recognize your concern and warmth.
You may feel so beat down at times that you want to give up and walk away. This is a natural reaction. Nevertheless, keep in mind that despite the rejected dinner invitations and sighs of annoyance, deep down your children do still care. They would be disappointed if you stopped behaving like their parent.
The silver lining is that if you can stick by your children during their teenage years it is likely that they will begin to see you in a new light once they enter young adulthood. Their perspective will change and a healthy relationship can progress from there.