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Parenting Teens After Divorce, Step 3: Preserve Childhood

89585334We’ve come to our last tutorial on parenting teenagers through a divorce, and we’ve saved the best for last. Step 1 was about establishing a strong communication line between you and your teen, and Step 2 was about effective parenting during the teen years. Step 3 is all about focusing on you, so you can let your child have their childhood. At first this might seem like an direct paradox, but hear us out and all will be clear.

#3: Let Them Be Young

During and after a divorce, a parent may be experiencing such a horrible time that their child steps up and becomes caretaker, confidant, and, inadvertently, co-parent. This phenomenon has been labeled as parentified children, which basically describes a child who has assumed parental duties at a young age. The most common example of parentified children are the eldest children of large families. These children are often called upon to be mommy’s or daddy’s little helper with wrangling their younger siblings, but its a slippery slope to taking on parental duties, cleaning duties, and eventually running the household.

In divorce, children (including teens) can become parentified children if their parent is perceived to be overburdened and so distraught they cannot function without help. Divorce marks a devastating time in any spouse’s life, but if there are children involved the parents must try to avoid casting their child in a caretaker role. It can be tempting to view your new familial situation as you and your child against the world, but be careful of stripping your child of their childhood.

How to Preserve Childhood

We don’t mean to scare parents into keeping their distance from their children, we just want parents to be aware of the consequences of their actions. There are a few ways to be emotionally close with your child, have great communication, and not parentify your child. Let us show you how:

  • Don’t talk to your teen like you would your friend. You and your teen can be friends, but know the difference between the two relationships. For example, with your friend you would vent about your ex, your feeling of despair, and your deep insecurities and doubts. With your child you can convey your feelings, but you shouldn’t ever bad-mouth your ex (their parent) or put doubt in their mind about your ability to keep it together. Doing those things would only trigger anxiety within your teen and trigger parentification.

  • Don’t make your teen the middleman between you and your spouse. This essentially forces your teen to play diplomat to two feuding countries. It will also put your teen in the awkward position of having to choose between their parents. If you had two children, would you want them to make you choose who you loved more? No. So don’t reverse the role on your child.

  • Don’t make your teen the sole source of your life and happiness. It places a great burden and responsibility on them, makes them miss out on activities, and it will leave you unsatisfied. Find something you can do alone for you; become a hiking fanatic, join a book club, or take up a new hobby. Keep yourself balanced, and you’ll bring balance to your household.

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