What if My “Ex” Won’t Hold the Kids to the Same Rules?

When families go through a divorce and the kids end up splitting their time between parents (often called co-parenting), it changes the dynamics of the family, as well as the basic interactions between parent and child.  For parents of teens, this shift can be especially difficult as every member of the family tries to re-discover their role.

Changing Roles of Co-Parents

Co-parents often find themselves in different roles from those they had during the marriage.  Moms are especially affected by this because the dad is usually the disciplinarian in the family. When Dad leaves, Mom needs to develop a new set of skills.

Dads are usually the disciplinarian and authoritarian in the household.  They are the ones who build boundaries and structures that give teens the guidelines they need to help moderate their own actions.  Moms usually do great with relationships.  However, when Mom begins to take on the role that Dad used to play, the relationships can be shoved aside in order to ensure the rules and boundaries are in place.  But, Mom—the relationship you have with your teen needs to remain intact!  Don’t abandon the role you played before the divorce, but instead, find a way to support your teen through balancing discipline, boundaries, and relationships.  This is especially important as you walk through this difficult time together.  Your teen will either look to you for support and help—or he’ll look elsewhere.  It’s up to you.

Interacting with the Other Parent

Just as your role is changing, your relationship with your ex has changed.  And it will continue to change.  Your ex will do things that you don’t like, and this is going to affect you and your kids.  But it’s up to you to determine how much your response will affect your kids.  No matter how you feel about your ex-spouse, you can’t change them.  People are going to do what they are going to do.  Thankfully, that includes you.  You can change how you respond to your ex, your teen, and your changing role as a parent.

The boundaries that you set for your teen, and those that your ex sets, will help your child only if you keep your teen in mind first.  Think about your motivation behind setting a boundary—did you do it for your teen or did you do it as a way to get back at your ex?  And think about what you are saying about your ex—at least what you say in front of your teens.  Did you say that to knock the person down? Did you think about how this could affect your teen?  And if your teen pits your ex’s way of running his household against you, stick to your guns!  There’s a reason for the standards you set; remember that reason.  If you can still talk to your ex and clarify the boundaries you are each using, then take advantage of that.  Men—man up and stop using your kids against your ex-wife.  Women—stop using your kids against your ex-husband.  And kids—stop using your parents against each other.

How Teens Respond

When teens split their time between two parents, a lot of their reaction to mom and dad comes from the parents’ view of each other.  Stop badmouthing your ex in front of the kids.  What you say will form your child’s view of you, your ex, and your child himself.  But it’s not enough just to put up with the other parent—you need to give your child the structure and support that she needs.  That means setting your own standards and rules, making them clear to your teen, and consistently enforcing them.  It’s not enough just to have a conversation about rules.  Your actions and the way that you enforce the standards will affect how your teen responds to you in the future.

When I talk to the kids at Heartlight who have experienced co-parenting, they talk about how they respond well to the structure that their parents have given then.  It’s like me; I don’t like stoplights, and I don’t like stop signs, but I’d hate to live without them.  In the moment, your teen may rebel against you, your ex, and the rules each of you have set.  But Mom—stick to it. Dad—stick to it.  Eventually, your child will come back to you. At that point, it will be the relationship that you have built with your teen that will cushion the blow and help them find their way back to you.


Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

You may have heard the news story not long ago – an adoptive family in Tennessee put their 7-year-old Russian-born boy on an unaccompanied one-way flight back to Russia, explaining that he had terrorized their family since coming to live with them. Now, the world is in an uproar over their seemingly heartless and careless act.

This family’s decision to abandon their child is totally unacceptable, I know.  But I also know that adoptions can go haywire.  Adopted kids may or may not have any more problems than any other group of kids, but I think they often present a different “mix” of problems.  And those problems can often be more severe, with behavior escalating to the point where a child is out of control and dangerous to himself and others around him or her.

There’s no question that typical adolescent issues like belonging, fitting-in, rejection, connection, acceptance, and peer-relationships can become particularly prominent for some adopted kids.  But there are other factors that can cause just as many problems for the child and the adoptive parents.

Adoption Issues to Be Aware Of

If the adopted child was born out of a high-risk pregnancy, there is higher probability that they were prenatally exposed to alcohol, tobacco and other harmful drugs.  These impediments aren’t always unmanageable, nor are they untreatable.  But just knowing that there might be issues down the road as a result of that exposure might prepare you for dealing with it later on.  Many kids given up for adoption have come from high-risk pregnancies, exposing them to potential for developmental delays, impulsive choices, poor choices, attention deficit, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and emotional disorders. There may be a higher risk as well for issues such as Reactive Attachment Disorder, other attachment issues, learning disabilities, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), logic sequence problems, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder.

Adoptive parents may also have to deal with anger and rages in their adopted child, just as the Tennessee  parents have claimed.  As a result, adopted kids might have to attend a special school, have special teachers, or need tutoring.  All of this can be expensive and may go on for years.  To make matters worse, an adopted child may not hug you or express love or appreciation the way you want.

But There’s Hope in Every Adoption

Am I an expert on adoption? No, not me.  But I enter the world of adoption “from the other side” because I know and have helped more than 700 adopted teens who have come to live in our Heartlight residential counseling program, and I have listened to the 10,000 questions they brought with them.  My search for answers to those 10,000 questions has led me to my own conclusions about problems that can come up with adopted kids.  Sometimes their struggles may be the result of prenatal issues, but mostly it’s because we’re all people who carry some personal baggage, and we bring our wounded hearts into our relationships.  We all are sinners in need of a Savior … and in need of help.  I am convinced that no problem is too great for God to resolve, and no relationship too damaged for Him to repair.

I believe that God in His sovereignty places orphaned or abandoned children with families on purpose.  And what I have discovered is that conflicts that arise from adoption issues, whether on the side of parents or of the adopted child, can be overcome.  God has a way of taking conflict and using it for our own good, and for deepening the relationship between parent and child.  God doesn’t give up on us, nor does He send us back to where we came from. There are times that I believe that working through the conflict helps everyone involved move toward wholeness, and to deeper relationships.

It is good to understand the issues that surround adoption, for understanding brings a family to a different response, a calmer approach to handling conflict, and a platform to learn new ways for engaging with a child.

So, Why Adopt?

I want people to adopt.  In fact, I sit on the board of an international adoption agency.  But I want adoptive parents to know full well the issues that might come up, invade, or enter the relationship with their child.  Perhaps if the parents in Tennessee had known more about the potential pitfalls, perhaps they would have been better prepared for the potential for struggle.

If you plan to adopt, just remember this; there is more to the portrait of your adopted child’s life than you will be able to see.  You’ll play a very important role in that portrait, and the presence of conflict, disillusionment, or hardship won’t negate the purpose of the portrait.  I believe that most change in a person’s life come through conflict, difficulty, and hardship.  I also believe it is worth the struggle so that kids can live in families.

God bless those who choose to give a child a new home and a new family.  If you are an adoptive family, may your home be a haven of hope for a child who needs you; may God’s beautiful provision for orphans reach down to you as well, and may He give you the strength to work through any future struggles or difficulties.  And, as always, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to call.

 


Pitfalls of Adoption

This is National Adoption Awareness Month, and the 20th will be the 11th annual National Adoption Day. This year the adoption month theme is “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent.”

Kids were made to be in a family, with real parents. No family is perfect, and I don’t think I have ever met a perfect parent, have you?  About the time parents near “perfection,” their children are all gone and living on their own. Though adoption is never perfect, I do think that parents who are considering adoption need to be perfectly prepared and informed before they take this big step.

Adoption is riddled with acts of love by all involved.  And once understood and fully appreciated by the adopted child (usually in their 20’s), they will understand God’s desire to adopt each of us to be a part of His family.  As pure and undefiled as this act is, the act of adoption can still have difficulties and struggles, just as God often experiences struggles and sometimes rejection by His children.

It may seem from my following thoughts and warnings that I’m against adoption, but the opposite is true. In fact, I sit on the board of directors of an international adoption agency and some time ago I regularly worked with adoption agencies as the CEO of the National Association of Christian Child and Family Agencies.  But I have to balance my own zeal for adoption with my experience of dealing with hundreds of parents who have contacted me over the years after running into an emotional firestorm when their adopted child reached the teen years. Continue reading “Pitfalls of Adoption”