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"If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way" ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Parent vs. Parent
Posted by:Lloyd Woodward--Saturday, December 09, 2006

One of the strategies of teenagers vying for power in the family is to divide and conquer. Often in group we have pointed out how important it is for parents to stand unified. To back each other up. To include each other as much as possible in the decision making. To take the disagreements to a place where teens can not hear the two parents working out their differences.

Sometimes it is important to support the other parent even when you disagree. Always, a compromise should be looked for so that both parents can feel ownership with the approach. But what happens when parents are separated or divorced, and as is often the case, there is tremendous animosity between them?

The whole thing can get very complicated. For one, the teenager who is trying to continue his addictive lifestyle will naturally play one parent against the other. He will be aware of the tensions and resentments being played out. In fact, as both parents desire to win his approval, playing one parent against the other will bring him more and more power.

And secondly, the teenager is probably going to side with the parent who is most enabling of him in his addiction. The one that most wants to rescue him from the consequences of his addiction is naturally going to be the teen-favorite. Sometimes, but not always, the enabling parent has a relationship with substances too. Therefore, he or she minimizes the seriousness life-threatening nature of the teenager's addiction. Often, there is a whole lot of drama and finer-pointing. Through it all, the teenage drug addict wants the focus to be on the parents, not on him. When parents verbally attack each other, the trap has been sprung.

I hope that a few rules or points to keep in mind will be helpful, especially for estranged parents. Some of the readers might be thinking, "Oh that's great- make some rules- but my ex-spouse won't be reading this blog, or playing by the 'rules' -so what then?" Good question. These are rules that when observed, should STRENGTHEN a parent's position- not the other way around.

  • Do not trash the other parent in front of your teenager. My mother used to tell me, and I'm sure a lot of us heard this one, "If you can't say anything nice about someone- dont' say anything." Well, I would like to modify this to say, "If you can't say anything nice about each other don’t say anything at all IN FRONT OF YOUR TEENAGER." Blaming each other takes the focus off the teenager. Especially, this is true when parents blame each other for the teenager's addiction or for his most recent relapse.

  • You can't say anything bad about someone's mother! Period. No one puts up with that. And often, you can't say anything about their father either. It makes people angry and defensive. Naturally they defend the parent who is being attacked. So, if a mother trashes the father, the tendency will be for the teenager to move closer to the persecuted in an effort to protect that parent. In a sense the whole thing backfires. Likewise, if you are being trashed by the other parent, rest assured that if you do not trash back, it will backfire.

  • Both parent's intentions are good. Both parents love the teenager and want that teenager to be successful. It is only the manner in which they go about it that makes people at odds with each other.

  • Take some responsibility for what has happened. Realize that you choose this mother or father to parent your teenager. At one time, you believed that this person could be a good parent. Probably they ARE a good parents in many respects. Your teenager should never have to choose between you and your spouse. He can and should have you both.

  • The more support that you give to your ex-spouse's effort to parent your teen, the more power will flow back to you. It is paradoxical in some ways, but showing support for your ex-spouse in front of your teenager, puts you "above the fray." It is good to be seen as above the fray. Otherwise, you are seen as petty and small minded. Remember, this is always about your teenager and his drug problem. It is not about the two of you and how much you may hate each other.

  • Stand up for what you believe. Confront your teenager and, when necessary, confront the other parent. However, there is a difference between standing up for what you believe in and attacking the other person. There might be a fine line to walk here. When possible, take the disagreements outside of earshot of the teenager.

  • Neither of you is responsible for your teenager's addiction. Maybe you both feel responsible because of mistakes that you have made. You both may find that you swing between believing that the other parent is "killing my teenager" and worrying that you yourself have set the stage for your teen's demise into drug addiction. We all influence each other and it may be that you both have played a role; however, it is now the teenager's responsibility to take or not take the first one. As the adults blame each other - no one holds the teenager responsible for his own choices. Even though we can not change the past- we don't have to let it hold us hostage either. Amends can be made and many things that looked hopeless can yet have a happy ending.

  • If you teenager travels between your two houses, attempt to keep the rules consistent. For example, if your teen is not allowed to contact old friends when he is at one house, but he can contact them when he is at the other parent's house, the one is undermining the other. If the other parent refuses to support your teenager's sobriety ten do not let them visit the other parent. (Don't trash the other parent- just do not allow the visit until you believe that they will be supportive of your teenagers' sobriety.) Or, if the other parent will not maintain Conditions Of Supervision that you have worked out with your teenager's Probation Officer, then do not let them visit the other parent. An example of how this might play out where the parent is walking a fine line between not trashing the other parent and not allowing the visit. Consider this role-play:

Mom: I have some bad news honey.

Son: What?

Mom: I know that you very much wanted to spend the weekend with your father, but the way things are right now- we can't do that.

Son: Why not? You hate dad! You never want me to be around him! You made him leave us in the first place cause you are such an idiot!

Mom: Well it hurts me that you think so. Nevertheless, you can't go to see him this weekend.

Son: You haven't told me why though have you? Cause you hate him and you're just jealous that he has a new girlfriend whose is younger than you are!

Mom: You're absolutely right about something honey. Good point. I have not told you why you can't visit. And as long as you treat me disrespectfully I won't bother to explain anything.

Son: You can't do that!

Mom: Regardless

Son: I'll go anyway.

Mom: It's not acceptable.

Son: Why? I hate you!

Mom: Nevertheless, this is non-negotiable.

Son: What are you going to do, turn me into my PO if I go?

Mom: Of course I talk with your PO all the time. You know I won't lie for you.

Son: What am I supposed to tell dad?

Mom: Have him call me. [Walks away.]

PHONE CALL BETWEEN MOM ANS DAD LATER (teenager is not around.)

Mom: Hello

Dad: What's this sh*t about you trying keep me away from my son again?

Mom: Yes, I'm not surprised that it looks that way to you.

Dad: Well that's what it is.

Mom: Do you want to discuss this now? Is this a good time?

Dad: Yes of course I want to discuss it now- that's a stupid question. You are so full of yourself. So self- righteous. Like you know what's best for everyone all the time.

Mom: Well now is good for me too, but I have to tell you something first and you not going to like it.

Dad: I never like what you have to say. That's why I try to avoid you at all costs.

Mom: Fine. But you seem to want to talk to me know. So listen up- ok? I'm not going to feel like repeating this.

Dad: Go ahead

Mom: I won't discuss this with you if you are going to attack me or treat me disrespectfully. If that happens again in this conversation, then I'm hanging up. I have to tell you that I've been making some changes around here and if you can talk about this in a fairly decent fashion, I would like to share some things with you.

Dad: I'm listening.

Mom: It's ok that we don't see eye-to-eye about things. And I do want you to visit your son- God knows- I could use a break. But it IS NOT in my job description as your son's mother to any longer accept being verbally abused by you or by your son. So, if YOU need to speak to me about anything- you have to do it in a respectful way. And if you want to give your son a tip- tell him that the party's over- from now on he will not get his way by ranting and raving. In the past I gave into him just to keep the peace. Not any more.

Dad: Ok, what else? (sounds exasperated.)

Mom: He can't stay overnight at anyone's house anymore. It's not just your house. It is not permitted by his Probation Officer and I agree with that completely.

Dad: That's ridiculous. I'm his father.

Mom: Because you are his father, an exception CAN be made that he can stay at your house- but not anyone else's house. And he can only stay at your house if you contact his Probation Officer and let him knows that you agree with and will follow his Conditions of Supervision. I have a copy here that I can email you if you want, and I have his Probation Officer's name and number here. He said that he would like to talk with you.

Dad: I don't have time to deal with this guy. You tell him I'll look the thing over, and that's it's OK that I take him this weekend, OK?

Mom: Sorry, I know that you are busy, but I can't do that.

Dad: I'm not getting involved with these government types. They are assh*oles. They don't care about our son- they are just cops!

Mom: Nevertheless, that is the only way. But I am disappointed.

Dad: Why is that?

Mom: Because I think it would be good for him to spend some time with you. I know he misses you. You are very important to him.

Dad: Well, why is this contact with his PO so god dammed important. (The tone of his voice is calming a bit now.)

Mom: Because he has a life-threatening disease of Heroin addiciton and we are trying to keep him clean and positive about his recovery. You know, so that he doesn't have to get sent away again and so that he stays alive. That's why the rules are so strict around here, and we need to know that they will be strict at your house too.

Dad: Ok, ok, ok. I'll call this guy. But I hold you responsible for all this bull shyt, and if you had done what I told you to do years ago, he wouldn't be on Heroin. You know that dont' you?

Mom: Yes I know that you think that his drug addiction is all my fault. Nevertheless, here is the PO's name and phone number- do you have a pencil?

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