Have you ever experienced the double-edged sword of teen parenting? It is that there are two of you, not one of you! If your adolescent is being parented by two parents, rather than a single parenting scenario, the advantage is that your teen has the potential of double the love, double the wisdom and double the structure. The disadvantage is that you two can disagree way too much on what’s best for your adolescent, and things can get very messy. Your teen can get confused as to what the rules are, can get disoriented as to who is in charge and can also game the system and play one parent against the other.
Typically, the bottom line of the problem is a disagreement about rules and consequences. This can include grades, attitude, curfew, driving, social media, alcohol or drugs. And whatever the specific context, one parent will tend to be more lenient, while the other is stricter. For example, some parents will have minor or even no consequence for teenage drinking (the “fun” parent), while others will ground the adolescent for a very, very long time (the “tough” parent).
And this is true whether Mom and Dad are married or not. It’s the same issue. The problem is that teens lose out on a unified parental front, just during the time they are preparing to launch into the world. So here are some ideas to help you help them.
Pick a calm time to discuss parenting with the other parent. The worst time in the world is when you’re in the middle of some argument with the teen and emotions are running high. Set a time when your child is not around, and go into the discussion with the goal being, “Let’s find some ways to give our kid a more consistent parenting experience.”
Appeal to what is best for your teen. Often, parents work out their conflicts with each other through the adolescent. For example, the fun parent may allow way too much disrespectful language, just to show the tough parent that he or she is wrong. On the other hand, the tough parent may come down extremely hard to send a message to the fun parent. You must appeal to this principle: we need to set our differences aside to serve our teen’s development. Help each other not to make it personal, nor competitive. I have found many combative parents’ hearts melt when they think about how much they love their child and want her to succeed. It’s not about you two — it’s about your teen.
Write down the issues you disagree on. Use the list of problems at the beginning of this article as a guide. Having them in front of you both takes a lot of the angst and emotion out of the equation and turns it into just a problem to solve.
Hear each other out, and paraphrase back what the other is saying. When each of you can speak back to the other parent what his or her opinion is on why he or she thinks what he or she thinks about the specific rule and the consequence, both of you feel heard and understood. Being understood greatly increases the odds of successful discussions that result in a unified stance, rather than a power play between the parents.
Compromise on style and preference, but not values. Bend as much as you can on preferences, but you can’t bend on values. For example, I believe all homes should be drug free. There is no compromise there — zero tolerance. But you two may need to compromise on how far to go with the response to drug use. It can range from loss of privileges to a residential setting such as Compass Rose Academy. That is something parents must work out for themselves.
When all else fails, seek a third party. There are those times in which the two of you just can’t get on the same page. When this happens, your teen is in jeopardy. Run, don’t walk, to a therapist who works with teens and families. They are specially trained to break the logjam and help you be the best parents possible.
My book, “Boundaries with Teens,” has much more information about this topic. Best to your parenting!