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I get letters from parents, stepparents, and occasionally from teens themselves about kids avoiding a parent after a divorce.
Here is an example: “My husband has a daughter who will be 15 in November. My husband and I have been together for almost six years and got married this year. His daughter always lives with us in the summer and with her mother during the school year. She is a great kid and does well in school. We live nearby. Recently his daughter told my husband that she doesn’t want to see us anymore. She doesn’t like him because he does little things that annoy her and he is a father of convenience (he didn’t participate in one school car wash though he did all the others). My husband loves his daughter very much and is very hurt. Should he force her to come over to our house, even though she doesn’t want to be there?”
I pointed out that a fifteen year old from an intact family might very well say to a parent, “I never want to see you again!” Teens are moody and get angry easily. They also need to distance themselves from their parents while they are in the process of growing up and getting ready to leave the nest. So this girl’s outburst may have had nothing to do with the fact that she has a divorced father and a stepmother.
On the other hand she may have been doing a slow burn since her father remarried and is using the car wash incident as an excuse to stick it to both her father and stepmother. She may have fantasized since the divorce that her parents would get back together and marriage ended her dream.
My advice: Don’t force a teen to come to a house he or she doesn’t want to be in. But divorced parents should do everything in their power to keep the door open. Teens, both boys and girls, need the presence of a father.
Are you a divorced parent whose teen is angry at you? Apologize for what you did to let the kid down. Think of a time one of your parents let you down and tell that story to show your kid you understand.
Acknowledge the teen’s desire to avoid coming to your new house and being with your new family. But don’t accept not seeing you at all. Invite the teen out to lunch hopefully to have a good discussion. It’s best to have talks with kids in a neutral setting where no one else involved in the situation is around. Tell the teen you love all your children and can’t bear to think of any of them not being in your life. Then ask the teen how to solve this dilemma–and wait for the answer. If your teen clams up you suggest new options.
You can meet, just the two of you, once a week for coffee or a meal. You can take a vacation trip together every year. You can cut down the time a teen is supposed to spend with the non-custodial family in the summer. A summer is too long for most teens to be away from friends so try two weeks or a month. Use email and the telephone to keep in touch between times you see each other.
The bottom line? Keep connections open while respecting the teen’s wishes.
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