Talking with Your Teen about Your Divorce
There’s really no way to navigate through an experience like divorce without anyone getting hurt, and our children are no different from ourselves in that respect. But the amount of hurt and confusion that is caused by this difficult transition can be minimized with the right kind of communication. Teenagers, in particular, can benefit from the opportunity to air their own feelings, have their questions answered, and form some kind of picture of what life is going to look like from now on. Teens are also likely to react to the prospect of their parents’ divorce in a way that differs vastly from the way in which younger children might react. For one thing, they’re more likely to see themselves within the equation. They’re at an age when they’re exploring the opposite sex, discovering their sexuality, and possibly fantasizing “happily ever after” scenarios involving a sweetheart. Hearing about their parents’ divorce can drastically repaint the mental images that they have about their own future. After all, their parents served as their first models for how the sexes relate to one another. Divorce, then, can shatter the expectations that they have about how their own lives might unfold.
Teenagers, in particular, can benefit from the opportunity to air their own feelings, have their questions answered, and form some kind of picture of what life is going to look like from now on.
This is a place where they can benefit from knowing more about why the divorce is happening, so that they can put it in a calmer perspective. Teens experience a lot of worries and anxieties on the best of days, and these feelings will be intensified when they hear about your divorce. Also, you don’t want them to go completely the other way and shut down emotionally as a way of protecting themselves. Talking will allow them to process their feelings and put their thoughts into some kind of context that makes sense. Ideally, both parents should be present together when telling kids about their divorce. This helps the reality to sink in (instead of all this divorce talk seeming like one parent’s idea or reaction), and can cut through a lot of potential blame and contradicting stories. If for some reason you have to do it alone, be objective and fair. Criticizing the other parent, or trying to win the allegiance of your kids, will only cause pain and confusion. It’s best to be firm – not indecisive – and also give your kids the space and freedom to experience and express whatever reactions they have to the news. Also be sure to give them all the pertinent information that you can about how their lives will be impacted, such as who they will live with, and whether there’ll be a move and change of schools involved. The more questions that teenagers have answered, the less they’re left with to agonize about. There may be many reactions. They may be angry, or they may be hurt. They may be shocked, or they may have long seen this coming. Be aware that this is only the first of a series of talks that you’ll need to have, not the final word. Teens will typically move through a series of emotional responses to the news, from denial to blame to acceptance. At each stage, they will benefit from more opportunities to communicate with you, and to have their feelings validated.