I remember being a teenager and having divorced parents. Living in a split-family wasn’t easy. I didn’t have text messaging and cell phones to stay in constant contact with my friends. Eventually, there came a point when I really didn’t want to go to my Dad’s anymore. It didn’t matter if I went on the weekend or if I went on a Tuesday through Friday schedule. It wasn’t because I didn’t love my Dad. It wasn’t because I didn’t like to be around my Dad. It really was as simple as he lived just too far away from my friends.
The best thing I ever did was talk to my Dad about it. He was so great. He started picking me up for breakfast and dinner “dates” instead of hauling me away for an entire weekend. Those dates were the foundation of me getting to really know my Dad. Each outing we were completely devoted to each other’s attention. Even if he hadn’t taken that attitude, and I’d still had to go for entire weekends, I think I would have been relieved to talk to him about it. It would have helped him at least understand why I was acting some of the ways I was.
Of course it’s just as difficult being a divorced parent. As a divorced parent myself now, I realize how strong my Dad was to have let me have that freedom. Just as my Dad must have done, I now spend half of my life alone wondering what my kids are doing. I wonder if they are missing me, or having such a good time without me that they don’t miss me. In the back of my mind, I carry around the fear that one day soon I might get that same request to cut back on their time with me. If I do, hopefully I’ll be as dignified as my own Dad.
If going back and forth between two families is becoming difficult, it can be difficult to get the communication flowing. Sometimes having a simple tool like having a song or book relating to the subject will jump-start the process. It may seem silly, but something as basic as sharing a story like “We’re Having A Tuesday”, a picture book aimed at younger children, may bring the memories of how it used to feel forward and then open the subject to a conversation about how things are feeling today. Many teenagers enjoy sharing music and books with parents. It brings them to a different time and makes them feel warm and like sharing.
Here are some other strategies for both teenagers and parents for keeping the communications lines open in split-family situations. Kids today can empower themselves to help in their own split-family situations:
1. Be willing to speak up.
You should be willing to talk to your parents openly about frustrations. Obviously if your parents don’t know you’re frustrated, there is little to nothing that can be done about it.
2. Get your parents involved in a conversation.
If getting your parents attention seems to be difficult, try asking them for a special meeting. Request a special restaurant date or write up a formal meeting notice. Call and talk to them on the phone if you must, it is a great way to have undivided attention.
3. Don’t tattle on your parents.
Telling negative things about one parent to the other will only do damage in the long run. It may seem like a great way to get one parent on your side, but really all it does is aggravate your parent, which is unlikely to put them into a good mood.
4. Be responsible.
Come up with a way of remembering all of your stuff. Nothing irritates an adult more than having to drive over to his/her ex’s to retrieve something due to your carelessness. Write a checklist if you have to.
5. Call your parents.
When you are at the one parent’s house, call the other one. It is much better for you to determine when a good time to talk is than to risk having a phone call come at the most inopportune time.
Three Musts for Parents:
1. Be willing to listen.
When your child is talking, don’t interrupt. Brainstorm for solutions only after your child has had a chance to speak his/her mind. If they bring a song or read you a passage, listen to what it’s saying. They may be trying to tell you something.
2. Don’t talk negatively about your ex.
Like it or not, your child is made up half of your ex, and when you down talk your ex, you are really putting down part of your own child. It really puts your child in an awful situation and no child should have to feel like they should like one parent better than the other, even temporarily.
3. Practice flexibility.
If your ex has tickets to a sporting event on the day you have them, if you don’t have anything planned, by all means let your child go. Trade for another day if you can. Being rigid just to irritate your ex does your child no favors, and really does nothing for your relationship either. Nothing shuts down communication quicker than resentment.