staying involved as a non-custodial parentSo, you feel you have done nothing wrong, yet your teen has created a story with you as the resident bad guy! Are your ears burning?

It is very hard when one or both parents involve the child in their agendas and it can be so detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being and subsequent relationship with the alienated parent. It can make the estranged parent feel angry, hurt, stressed and pushed out. It can be a lonely frustrating place to find yourself.

What can you do about it if you find yourself in that situation?  

First and foremost, don’t despair and think it’s the end of your relationship forever. Parental break ups can be very hard for adolescents to integrate even when the split has been amicable. Teenagers go through huge emotional transitions that see them make all or nothing decisions and catastrophize their life when obstacles arise even temporarily!

Perception is reality and what he/she has experienced maybe very different to your view of what the relational history and facts are. Being wise enough to acknowledge that you have made a mistake, by seeing it from their perspective is the biggest investment tool in your positive relations bag. It smart and its strategic and will get you more of what you want than you can get by simply refusing to ever be wrong.

Here are some tips which may help in your efforts at reconciliation:

  • Encourage them to tell you if you have upset them in anyway, “Please let me know so that I can sort it out and apologize.” Saying you are aware of where they are coming from, you understand THEIR view point and why THEY are upset even though YOU don’t necessarily agree, helps. Take responsibility for your part in this breakdown of your relationship. Whatever they “feel” — their view may be inaccurate but their pain is real. Denying their right to perception will only make things worse.
  • Keep in contact even if it’s one-sided for the time being. Continue the emails, texts, or even hand-written letters, telling them how much they mean to you and why you are proud of them. If they refuse to accept these messages, write them anyway and keep them. You never know when the tide will change. Telling them later how you felt about them during that time will be a comfort and give you brownie points! They need to know they are loved unconditionally.
  • Never criticize or disparage their Mum/Dad or others in their life, even if you think it or hear it from them first. When issues involving their other parent and you are brought up by your teen, don’t engage in conversations and don’t involve them in your relationship. Children do not need to feel burdened by their parents’ issues, and it may well come back to bite you in the future!
  • At the same time, be firm but loving about your stance on issues that involve you and the family dynamic. It takes two for a relationship to be problematic.
  • Be supportive and encouraging always. Stick to safe topics: school, friends, work, etc.
  • Never give up trying to connect, they are still maturing psycho-emotionally, and teens go through a huge development stage between 18 and 25. As they learn more about the world and how to navigate relationships they will not see their loved ones in such black and white terms. The other parent is not so perfect after all! They will also begin to understand that it takes two to keep a loving relationship afloat.
  • They may not yet legally be an adult, but they are not far off. So your relationship will soon change to one of two adults, when you are still a parent but in a different way. Treat them more maturely, by asking them lots of questions about their future goals and their opinions on things. Adolescent’s love it when they are asked their views and advice on issues or even whether should you buy a new car. It makes them feel empowered, and important.
  • Always be wiser, stronger, kinder. It will hopefully be a great investment for the future adult to adult relationship.
  • Most importantly take care of yourself during this time of estrangement. Seeking support and relaxation is imperative to get you through and help to keep you on track.

A friend of mine lost contact with her teen daughter after an acrimonious split with her husband and, for many years, thought they would never reconnect. Her heart was broken. I knew that as a child this teenager had been loved dearly and nurtured by her Mum, and told her that the psycho-emotional ground work had been done, even if her teen was angry and distant now. I said to my friend once the teen reached her twenties she would start to change as she started to see the holes in her previous narrative. And she did.

A lot more happens at around 21, 22, 23 years old. That’s when young people tend to start understanding their parents as people with flaws like everyone else. They take a wider and further, lens when it come to their childhood experiences with their parents and sift through and collate what to them was, and was not, acceptable from the past. This maturing often means they create new perspectives that are more nuanced and gentler. Hey, maybe the old man/lady was not so bad after all!

We are all a work in progress!