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Divorce and Teens
Q: My husband and I have decided to divorce and this is upsetting to our 17-year-old daughter. I tend to set the rules in the house, while my husband is more lenient. Since I seem to be the "bad guy," I'm sure she will chose to live with her dad. What can I do to improve our relationship before it's too late?
A: I'm sure that your teenage daughter has known for some time that you and your husband haven't been happy in your marriage. You describe yourself as the parent who has set the rules and disciplines your daughter when she breaks these rules. At 17, your daughter may choose to live with the parent she believes will let her "get away" with misbehavior. It would be unfortunate if your daughter chose to live with your husband solely because of this...but she may do just that.
I'm sure that your relationship with your daughter is based on far more than your being the "bad guy" and her testing your limits. I hope that, throughout her childhood, you have developed a relationship based on unconditional love, trust, appreciation, and mutual respect. If that's the case, your current relationship will continue to grow, regardless of which parent she lives with until she graduates high school.
Given the strain within your family, I think that it might be useful for you and your daughter to see a counselor together and to focus on your desire to maintain a loving relationship with her. It's very important that she know that she's a priority in your life. Working with a family counselor as a family -- you, your daughter, and your husband -- would be a sensible use of counseling at this pivotal time in your family life.
Your daughter is fortunate to have had a parent who knew that limits and rules needed to be set. You did not treat parenting as a popularity contest with your child. Kids tell me all the time in therapy that they were grateful that their parents cared enough to set limits and to have family rules. They never told their parents, but they were made to feel more secure as a result of that concern for their safety.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.