The most challenging part of a divorce is agreeing to custody, especially when the children are adolescents, and you can never predict their moods or desires. Here are five practical steps you can take to make your teen want to spend time with you, according to Gay Rosenthal, a Licensed Psychologist.
Remind your teen that you will always love them, that you will always be present for them. Then, follow through. Showing love means making time for your teen, actively listening, and showing empathy and compassion.
Attend as many of your teen’s school, athletic, and other events as possible. However, if you think you can’t make it to an event, don’t tell your teen you will be there and then not show up. If you are uncertain, it is better to tell them that you will not be able to make it, but then show up and surprise them!
Stay in Touch
Maintain contact and support with your teen through regular communication by phone, texting, email, social-media, etc. Remember, though, to not “overdo” it. Focus on the quality of the relationship with your teen rather than the quantity of time you are with them.
Create and Uphold Boundaries
Respect your teen’s boundaries. Understand your teen is an individual with unique characteristics, development, strengths, and vulnerabilities. Show interest in their lives without intruding. Support, encourage, and be curious, but understand teens too want privacy. Of course, if there is concern about health and safety, then intervene as much as necessary. Regarding parenting time, be flexible and considerate while still maintaining consistency. As teens get older, they spend more time with friends and in activities. Those choices are developmentally appropriate and require your flexibility.
Parent from a positive perspective while setting reasonable limits and natural consequences. The purpose of “discipline” is to teach your teen increasing self-discipline as they grow. Communicate directly with the other parent rather than using the children as messengers. “Don’t shoot the messenger” is a saying for a reason. Don’t put that kind of pressure and tension on your children.
Actively support your teen’s relationship and time with the other parent. Demonstrate respect for the other parent in their role as the mother or father of your teen. Your teen cares for that parent. If you fail to respect the other parent in their role as a parent, you may cause your teen to become negative or even antagonistic towards you. Make only positive comments about the other parent or say nothing. Be open to hearing about the positive aspects of your teen’s relationship with the other parent.
Love your teen more than you dislike the other parent and your past relationship. Teens are keen observers of their parents’ behaviors and feelings but do not always interpret them correctly. If your teen perceives that you are competing with the other parent or do not like the other parent, they will be forced to choose a side.
Before making promises to your teen—or even sharing the information with your teen—first speak with the other parent. This includes plans for vacation, occasional alterations in parenting time, opportunities for your teen (e.g. activities, travel, etc.), and other major matters. This way, you are not making promises to your teen that you later discover you cannot keep due to failure to reach an agreement. You are also then not placing your teen in the middle of your disagreement with the other parent. When teens are in the middle, they have divided loyalties and are typically forced to choose one perspective or parent over the other.
Remind your teen that you and the other parent make many decisions together. Instead of outright saying no, instead say, “I understand. I will talk with your father/mother, and then we will let you know.” There is no need to always be the parent bearing bad news, particularly when you made that decision with the other parent.
About Gay Rosenthal
After years of working with children in hospital and school settings, Gay felt inspired to open her own private practice where she prioritizes helping parents and children develop and grow the parent-child relationship. Gay believes that a healthy family is an essential building block to a healthy community. In her youth, Gay spoke French fluently, painted with oil, and designed her own clothing.
In addition to providing individual and family therapy, Gay helps families by serving as a parenting consultant, parenting time expeditor, early neutral evaluator, and mediator. If you find your relationship with your teen struggling, reach out to Gay. Improving your relationship with your teen is important to her. Gay Rosenthal, M.A.