As divorced dads, finding spontaneous moments to connect with your teen may seem few and far between. But you may be overthinking what you need to do. Take a deep breath. Divorced fathers and teens may share something in common; you both need a little time and understanding. Read on to find out how to better communicate with your teenager. It’s easier than you think.
The Way We Were
As a parent, it’s easy to remember those days when little girls and little boys couldn’t wait to share absolutely everything, asking permission via repeated calls of “Dad, Dad, Dad, are you listening to me?” followed by a detailed rundown of their day. Even though we all wished for a moment’s peace, the dramatic shift from elementary to high school is disconcertingly quiet and unexpected.
It’s a natural progression for children to make. For divorced dads with shared custody, the change can seem to happen suddenly. Oftentimes you don’t have the familiar camaraderie of mom to blunt the edge; you’re each on your own.
Do I Know You?
First off, recognize that this new behavior is a normal stage in any teen’s development. During the teenage years, your child will have a desire to be more independent and self-controlled, and sometimes that means conversations are not easily initiated or shared. This isn’t to say that your teen is unpleasant, but realize they are experimenting with their identities and trying to see for themselves what fits best. Peers take on new importance, as does the desire to fit in.
Shhh. Hang on a Second.
At times we feel rebuffed when we ask the simplest of questions. “How was your day at school?” is the perfect opportunity for a one-word answer. “Fine.” The earbuds go in, and your teen moves on. Don’t give up yet. Better still? Don’t rise to the bait. Just hush, and wait.
You might be surprised to look up and find your teen at your side while you’re washing the car, or making dinner, or folding clothes. While you may not think this is the perfect time for conversation, it is. Your child has come to you, and while she may appear to be folding towels or chopping carrots, she’s providing you with the perfect opportunity to talk. Now what?
No Big Gestures or Sudden Movements
Be cool. While you may be most interested in her Civics grade, she may want to discuss what happened with her best friend. Let her. Put your ideas to the side and allow conversation to flow naturally. Be open to what they say. As parents, we may not like or agree with everything our children say, and that’s okay as long as we maintain respect for each other’s opinion. When the kiddos are young, we tell them they can, and should, talk with us about anything. Show them that rule still holds true.
If our goal is to share conversation, we need to maintain our adult status. No shouting, no recriminations. We still need to be role models for our teenagers, and engaging in civil discourse is a skill they will use every single day. If we show them how.
And I Will Talk In a Car, On a Boat, In the Rain
Believe it or not, one of the best places to tease conversation out of your teen is in the car. There isn’t pressure to maintain continuous eye contact, and conversation can be a little more relaxed. If it’s just the two of you, make a play to ditch the earbuds in favor of shared music or directions to your destination. If you’ve got a teenager with a driver’s permit, conversation becomes even easier as your teen will ask about rules of the road. These small conversations open the door to bigger, more important discussions by laying the groundwork and demonstrating your desire to listen.
Divorced Dads Will See Change
While our little ones are growing into adulthood, learning to become their own young men and women, we’ve got some changing of our own to do. Getting older and seeing the balance shift from total control to optional wisdom is sometimes difficult to take. And sometimes that fear that we’re past our prime can cause us to try and resume that control. Try to approach this change from another, more positive, angle. Our ultimate goal as divorced dads in raising our children is to enable them to live fulfilling lives on their own. As teenagers, they’re just learning how to use some of what we’ve spent years teaching them. And that’s a good thing.
Learning to Adult
As a divorced dad, you can choose to engage by opening up a little space, by learning to accept quiet as the first step in conversation. Learning to adult is not easy, and teenagers negotiate cautiously, taking very small steps. Just as you did back when they were small, the important thing is to take it slow, offer encouragement and remember to smile. Dad can still make things better.
Call in reinforcements. Your ex is still part of the parenting team; try and put your heads together to find something that works for your child. Maybe after football practice is the magic time. Maybe an invitation to a sporting event you’d both enjoy. The idea is to look for opportunity, for a time when neither is distracted nor in the hot seat.
You’ll Always Be Daddy
Sometimes it’s hard to see the little kid, and in truth, they really aren’t any longer. That doesn’t matter. Regardless of age, there is something in each of us that desires to connect. While we think our children are getting ready to go it on their own, this is the time when parents are needed most, even when it’s hard. To simply be there and available, you provide much-needed stability to your teenager when so many other things are changing. You are constant. And needed.
Find Yourself a Sounding Board
There are some days when nothing works. It doesn’t matter if you do everything right. If you find yourself stuck in one of these days, stay calm and work through it. If you and your ex are on the same page, you’ve got a built-in sounding board, and you can bounce ideas off each other and vent frustrations. But keep it between you two; no one, teenager or otherwise, wants to hear someone talking about them. Not keen on commiserating with the ex? Pick someone else, like a good friend or family member. Most folks are more than willing to help if you just ask.
This Too Shall Pass
Don’t despair if conversation is difficult. This developmental phase is a right of passage for both of you. As frustrated as you may be, making an effort now paves the way for a stronger relationship with your teenager when they finally reach adulthood.
The Sound of Silence
One final note: the sound of silence doesn’t have to be awkward. Learning how to be quiet together is a valuable skill by itself. Being comfortable together in a quiet place is how we all began as parents. It’s been a while since we’ve been there, but revisiting that quiet place reinforces the message that you’re there and available. In a rapidly changing world, that constancy brings comfort to both of you.
- One of the unfortunate consequences of divorce is a significant reduction in our time with our children. Normally the demands on our adult lives, such as work, bills and responsibilities, tear away at our available free time. Now that divorce is involved, your time available to spend with your children…