At some point, like it or not, your custody and visitation agreement will become more or less meaningless. Once your child reaches those pesky teenaged years and gets a driver’s license, it will be harder and harder to continue to handle custody and visitation the same way as before.
It’s a tricky place to be in, for sure. Because if your child’s father has visitation and your child suddenly starts refusing to go, he can make an issue of it. He can take you to court on a show cause, and you could have to answer to a judge about the breakdown in the custodial arrangement. But, then again, how can you physically force a teenaged child to do something against his or her will? You can’t exactly hog tie them and deliver them to their father’s doorstep.
We always tell our clients that the best thing to do with older children is to hold on with an open hand. It’s not the easiest part of parenting, for sure, but sometimes you have to ride out the ups and downs and the mood swings. When you and your child’s father are no longer together, if you allow the child to have too much control, you almost encourage the child to play the two of you against each other. The best thing you can do is agree, ahead of time, that you will both make an effort to enforce each other’s rules, support each other’s decisions regarding rewards and punishments, and cooperate with respect to your parenting.
There’s no question that parenting becomes more difficult, in many ways, as your children get older and that dealing with a teenager and an ex all at the same time can be mind-numbing. Still, it’s more important than ever to work together to deal with issues as they come up.
The most important thing is to remind your child that both parents are still there, still love her, and still have a place in their home for her. Let her know that you’re willing to talk, to listen, and to help, but that you won’t undermine her other parent. Don’t force a custody or visitation arrangement to the point that it backfires later, and communicate with your child’s other parent about what’s going on.
Remember that, if your child suddenly “hates” her other parent, your child could also suddenly “hate” you for a period of time. Treat your child’s other parent the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed, and remember that they probably will be, especially if you oppose her first choice for a prom date. Being a good parent is never easy, and that’s especially true when your child sees the advantage of playing two divorced parents against each other, but if you and your child’s father commit to working together, eventually things will work out. Or, at the very least, she’ll go away to college.