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Divorcing With Teens: The Consequences of Taking Sides

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By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT

I received the following question which poses many challenges related to divorce and parenting. While there is never a one-size-fits-all answer to relationship questions, I’m sharing my response with you as a perspective worth considering. This may be useful to initiate conversations with your former spouse and children or for discussion with a therapist or divorce coach if you are seeing one.

I am divorced for a short while, after being separated for several years. My 16-year-old daughter is awful to me and she yells "I hate you" and even curses at me even in public. I am sure she blames me for leaving her mom, but my other two children (boys, one older and one younger) seem to be dealing with the divorce fine. My problem is that I have no control over discipline. I would never speak to anyone the way she speaks to me, let alone a parent. But since she doesn't live with me, her mother is the disciplinarian and always with my daughter. And I don't believe that my daughter speaks to her mother or anyone else the way she talks to me. I love my daughter, but I can't let anyone, especially not my own child, speak to me in such a terrible way. When I can pick the kids up, she never wants to come, but the boys and I have a good time together. I don't know what to do.

Rosalind’s Answer:

There's no simple answer to your question. Naturally, it is complex and multi-dimensional, as are most family issues. Let me share some thoughts with you to give you one perspective:

* Unfortunately it is not uncommon for 16-year old daughters, for a variety of reason, to yell "I hate you!" at their parents. While it is hurtful to hear this, keep in mind that this level of over-dramatizing life is part of the teenage experience. Following a recent divorce, I wouldn't suggest focusing on the discipline aspect of the comment at this point. Let go of your self-righteousness and put your attention instead on trying to see the world from your daughter's viewpoint.

* Sadly there is a good chance your daughter is being influenced by her mother to not respect, trust or love you. This can be a result of your ex trying to win her over to Mom's side, using your daughter as a confidant and trying to develop more of a friend rather than a parenting relationship with your daughter.

*All of these behaviors create distance and distrust for you which is far more serious than your daughter’s comments. This is a form of parental alienation which is hard to counter. However, that is the reality of the challenge you are facing.

* The more you understand what your daughter is experiencing, the more compassion you will have for her and the easier it will be for you to step up to being the father she needs -- even if she doesn't realize it right now. You are still a role model to her and she needs to feel your unconditional love. She is testing you and may genuinely feel you have hurt her mother. She may also be torn with guilt regarding supporting her mother since she is living with her.

*How you handle this now will affect your long-term relationship with her. So don't stand on your soap-box. Show her your empathy, compassion and the ability to turn the other cheek. That's the Dad she needs to see -- and the one she will gravitate towards over time if you are sincere and can be patient.

*It would be helpful for you to seek out a support system -- a therapist, divorce group or coach -- because what I am suggesting to you is not easy and will take your stepping up and taking the "high road" on an issue that is not fair to you. But it is your reality and the choices you make today will affect your relationship with your daughter for decades to come.

*So think before you act. Stay connected to your deep love for your daughter. And remember, she didn't create this tremendous life-altering experience. You and your former spouse did. The kids are always innocent. A 16-year old is not emotionally prepared for handling this so give her some flack and be the mature adult.

*It would also be wise to talk to your ex on the side and discuss your feelings as well as the consequences for your daughter to be alienated from you. You can suggest that Mom can also take the high road and do what's best for her daughter. But you can't count on it! Don't wait for her to do the right thing. Your future relationship with your daughter is up to you. Don't create further alienation. Be there for her, be patient and loving. Hopefully she will come to thank you down the line!

* * *

Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children -- with Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, free articles, her blog, coaching services and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.

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