As divorce is a reality for many families these days, an important question for parents who are considering divorce is “How will our teen deal handle our divorce”? Unfortunately there is not a simple answer to this question. As with any difficult life situation, each person responds differently in their own, very individual way to challenging life circumstances. Some teenagers are able to mange the divorce of their parents without much apparent difficulty while others noticeably struggle for a lengthy period of time. If your adolescent appears to be struggling significantly (becomes significantly withdrawn, begins using alcohol and drugs, becomes aggressive and violent, starts running away or engaging in other potentially dangerous behavior) you should consult a professional for advice regarding their behaviors. Regardless of how it “seems” your teenager is dealing with the divorce, it is likely impacting them in some way since it is a major life change for the entire family.
This blog post will offer advice to parents whose teenagers are not engaging in dangerous behaviors but who are still struggling with the loss and many changes that come with divorce. One thing that frequently happens when parents divorce is that the children blame themselves. It is critical that parents tell their children that they are not the cause of the divorce in any way. If at all possible, it is helpful for parents to relay this message to their children together in a supportive way so that the children are hearing a consistent message about this from both parents. If it is not possible for both parents to meet together (which is not a good idea if there is tension, arguing or strong negative emotions between the two), then each parent should relay this message to their children separately. Teens may still question whether their arguing, yelling, missing curfew, dropping grades, etc. contributed to the divorce, however, hearing that it was not their fault, directly from their parents in a sincere manner, will help.
A parent who speaks negatively about the other parent to their children or in the presence of their children can cause significant and lasting emotional damage. Putting children in the middle of a divorce is never okay. Of course parents can have very strong emotions when going through a divorce and may feel betrayed, rejected, angry or bitter towards the other parent. A parent may also hear that the other parent is speaking negatively about them and feel the need to defend themselves while sharing some of the negative things the other parent has done. This is never helpful for the children. Teens are more aware than we give them credit for and they will begin to resent the parent who does the “bad mouthing” and will see through a parent’s attempts to put them in the middle of their own battles. As I already stated, putting children in the middle is extremely unhealthy for them and can result in damage that will follow them for years. Teens (or any children) should never hear parents saying things like, “all men are no good”, “all women are lazy and try to live off men”, etc. Every parent should want their children to grow up and have healthy, adult relationships without bringing ideas like this into these relationships. Hearing such statements from parents could significantly impact a child’s ability to form healthy, happy relationships in their adult years. (Of course, if there are ever concerns that your child’s other parent is harming them in any way physically or emotionally, you should seek professional help immediately)
If moving is part of the divorce process, it is important for parents to know how disruptive this can be for a teenager. Teens are already very insecure and uncomfortable with themselves. Asking them to uproot their lives, lose a parent in the home and change schools is a lot of change and will likely result in some strong emotions. Of course there are times when moving is necessary, however, it is important for parents to appreciate how disruptive this can be for their teenager and they should make every effort to help them adjust to their new community and school setting.
When parents are going through a divorce, they often feel very alone and feel an increase in their parenting responsibility since they no longer have a spouse in the home. One of the significant things that parents feel is that they are alone in making decisions without the other parent to fall back on or reach out to for support. If a divorce is amicable, it is ideal for the two parents to continue to parent their teenager closely together (kids are good, they will look for the holes and inconsistencies and go for them!). If this is not possible, it is extremely important and helpful for parents to get the support of others (friends, relatives, etc) who can help them or who can simply offer an ear when their teenager’s behaviors become challenging.
Finally, any parent who is going through the process of divorce is experiencing significant stress and changes themselves. It is important to practice good self-care during this time and to not give up this practice due to feelings of guilt about the divorce or because of feeling overwhelmed. Taking care of oneself allows us to be able to take care of others so remember, regardless of how busy, stressful, emotional or uncertain things become – take care of yourself!!!
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