I had the privilege of helping a listener over on my Podcast today. My listener has been experiencing some communication problems with the teenagers in the house on the heels of a divorce. In addition to helping the listener, I have no doubt that the information contained in the Podcast is relevant for ANYONE who has a teenager and has ever gotten one word answers, unexplained hostility, and avoidance. Give it a listen.
I started the episode by sharing the Four Key Needs of Your Teens at this time. These are important items of note.
- Your children need BOTH parents to stay involved in their lives. When you don’t stay involved, they feel like they’re not important and that you don’t really love them.
- They want you to stop fighting and to try to agree on matters related to them. When you fight about them, they think that I did something wrong and they feel guilty.
- They want to love you both and enjoy the time that they spend with each of you. Support them and the time they spend with each of you. If you act jealous or upset, they feel like they need to take sides and love one parent more than the other.
- They need and want both of you to remain a part of their lives. They need your influence and your unconditional love.
My Three Key Takeaways:
- One of the MOST IMPORTANT things is to make sure you do NOT insult, denigrate, or badmouth your ex in front of the kids. Character assassination is the worst thing you can possibly do. Just because you no longer love your spouse doesn’t mean your children have also fallen out of love with him/her. Regardless of how you feel, they undoubtedly still love their other parent and you absolutely need to respect that. If you ARE guilty of this, now is the time to rectify it. It’s a terrible example to set and in doing so, you can never expect your children to be open and honest if they know how you TRULY feel and are afraid of repercussions, disagreements or guilt. You need to keep in mind that at one point, you loved this person and your children are a direct byproduct of that love. Tearing your ex apart can make your children question THEIR worth, their value, and how you feel about THEM. Keep it classy because, just as your children are a byproduct of an earlier love, they are now a direct byproduct of your divorce. And, they continue to learn from you. Teach them how to go through a divorce with grace and integrity.
- You want to ask curious, open-ended questions and not loaded, dead-end ones. If you ask questions like “Why are you shutting me out?” Or, “Why can’t you be more like XX and open up when I am speaking to you?” you are going to put them on the defensive. That is NOT the way to effectively open up the lines of communication.Try opening a conversation with something like this instead: “Do you have any ideas for how we can implement some new family traditions?” or “How did your friend Stephanie handle it when her parents split up a couple years ago? What was the hardest part for her?” Can you see how this better helps open up a dialog?If you get stuck with an “I don’t know” or “I don’t care” – you can offer some suggestions, let them pick, and then let them experience what the consequences of their choice feels like. For example, “I’ve thought of some new family traditions we can implement: family dinner on Monday, Christmas on the Cape, or spinning class on Saturday – which one would you like to start with?” They then get to pick and live with the consequence of their choice. As much as possible, avoid yes or no questions and replace them with open ended questions. Steer clear of “Did you have a good day at school?” (Yep. Or nope.) or “How was your day?” (Fine. Slams door.)Better options are: “Tell me about your three favorite parts of your day.” (Burgers at lunch. Aced Chemistry test. Found library book.) Or “What is your understanding of the situation?” (I think you and dad are both jerks.) or “What can we do as a family to move forward?” (I need some time. I feel pretty angry right now, but I’ll think about it.)
- Give consideration to how you are responding when they open up. Are you an open and empathetic listener? Or are you critical and condescending? Does it end in an argument? Does it feel like it is always you vs them? If so, it is time for drastically different tactics. Don’t make your children wrong when they DO share with you. For example, your son tells you that he wants to see his other parent more frequently. Do you encourage that and make it happen with a genuine smile on your face OR do you freak out and have a little ego-driven temper tantrum? Or they share that they are in pain and you tell them to toughen up and suck it up. If you are consistently doing the latter, how many times do you think they’ll trust you with their feelings before they clam up?! (Hint: not very many!) If you criticize them, manipulate them, or make them feel “less than” when they share with you, they WILL shut down. You can’t expect to make people feel like shit and then have them keep coming back for more…even if they are your children.
It is also worth mentioning that if all else fails, things start getting worse, or you notice your children adopting dangerous or detrimental behaviors (like drugs, drinking, depression, etc), I recommend seeking out individual and/or group counseling with a qualified therapist who specializes in this field.
There is SO MUCH MORE over on the Podcast, so if you only plan on reading this, you are missing out! Get over to iTunes and download the episode. You can listen on the go!
I also talked about letting your kids curate some of their favorite memories (even if it kills you inside). If they are really creative and would like to create a scrapbook, I recommend the Project Life Collection. It makes it super easy! Or, you could also book a custom Self Esteem Through Art gathering and have them get help from someone who is passionate about memory keeping (AKA: Me).
It is not lost on me that this is an extremely sensitive and tremendously personal and difficult topic. My goal is always to give the best possible information I can and to provide a benefit to the listener. Dear Listener: I hope I did your question justice. I want you to know that it is an honor and a privilege to be able to perhaps impart some of my wisdom into your life. I view your trust, your candor, and your vulnerability with tremendous gratitude.
Was this article helpful? Let me know. Rate it on iTunes and leave a comment in the blog (BELOW). Be social. Share, share, share. There are other families out there — just like yours — who need this information and could benefit tremendously from it.
Are you a listener with a question? Contact me and let me know what’s on your mind. I just might offer up some insights on a future blog post or Podcast.
Until next time — peace.