A client, Cynthia, sat her sixteen-year-old daughter down for a mother-daughter chat. Cynthia was nervous. She wasn’t sure she’d given her daughter enough attention while she was going through the stress of getting divorced.
Cynthia started with what she thought was an important conversation.
“I want to talk about some rules for dating,”
“For who’s dating?” the daughter asked. “Yours or mine?”
Many people think that if you’re getting divorced when your children are teenagers, it’s easier. You don’t have as many childcare issues. Kids usually suffer greater separation anxiety from the mall than their parents. There is no great confusion about what divorce in general will mean to their lives.
But divorcing when your child is a teenager has its own unique issues that should be addressed by both parents together.
Dating (Theirs, Yours, and Your Ex’s)
That first kiss! That first boyfriend or girlfriend! That first bedroom door closed while the opposite sex is visiting!
It’s important for you and your ex to maintain a united front setting limits and boundaries in terms of dating. Both mom’s and dad’s houses should have the same rules regarding:
Curfews. (On school nights & weekends.)
Which room(s) in your house your child is permitted to bring a date.
Does the door to your child’s bedroom need to stay open if the date is in there?
When your child becomes an older teen– can a date spend the night, and where will he or she sleep?
If parents allow the strains of their divorce to keep them from being on the same page with these rules, that’s all a teen needs to tap into that time honored tradition of playing one parent against the other. Meanwhile important messages parents want to convey to their kids about safety, responsibility and respect when dating get lost with the parents’ mixed signals.
Now multiple the issues of dating times two—meaning yours and your ex’s!
Avoid Scenes with Your Teen When You and Your Ex Enter the Dating Scene
Both you and your ex have to make sure your teen is comfortable about you dating. And secure that a new boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t going to rob them of parenting time. Discuss with your Ex:
When it’s appropriate to introduce your teen to your new significant other
What should happen if your teen and a new partner don’t get along
How much should your teen know about your or your ex’s personal life- (How will you both fend off those probing teen questions that reveal TMI —Too Much Information!)
When Your Teen is in the Driver’s Seat
The day has finally arrived! Your life as a chauffeur has ended. Now a new set of worries can begin. You and your ex should discuss:
Curfews when your teen has the car
Is there a limit to how many friends your teen can chauffer around?
Are there rules about designated drivers?
Who pays for gas? (Perhaps this is a good time to discuss with your ex whether your teen should get a part-time job)
Are you and your ex going to buy your teen a car? If so, who will pay?
Just Because They’re not Children Doesn’t Mean They Don’t Need Childcare
In the early teenage years (13-14), parents start to leave children alone. You and your ex should discuss:
How old your child should be before he or she is left alone
How many hours you feel comfortable leaving your teen alone. (Does it depend on how far you are from home?)
At what age is your teen old enough to be left alone overnight?
If you do in fact decide you need childcare does your ex have “the right of first refusal” to stay with your child, before you hire a paid sitter?
Many of the above issues are discussed in mediation. However it’s not always possible to discuss every possible future scenario. One of the many wonderful things about divorce mediation is that during mediation, parents learn how to communicate effectively and make decisions together. This sets the groundwork for a solid co-parenting relationship down the road. So when a difficult issue arises regarding your teenager, you and your ex—(rather than focusing on old fights)–can concentrate on what’s best for your teenager.