Divorce is tough on everyone. Here are ten ways to help your teenager through the divorce process.
Whether you're just now contemplating ending your marriage or its been some time since it was over, you'll want to spend some time and energy helping your kids manage the big changes in their lives following your divorce. While teenagers often say things like, "It doesn't matter", and "I don't care", deep inside their still-developing hearts they really do care very deeply about what happens between their parents.
When your teen knows it was bad...
Sometimes a marriage goes through a whole lot of conflict before being officially declared 'over'. Your teenager may have been witness to parental arguments or silence, seen you try to pretend all was well after physical abuse, or jumped into the role of being your confidante as you struggled to decide the best way to move ahead with your own life. Even when kids see the bad things in a marriage, they still often hold a secret wish that their parents will work it out. Just as common is an expression of disrespect either for an abuser or for the victim of abuse. Kids tend to think in terms of black-and-white, all-or-nothing. If it was bad, leave. If there's conflict, stop. Just as tragic are the families where there is extensive ongoing abuse and the children begin to believe that they're not worth being treated respectfully.
When you finally act on your choice to end a bad marriage, work to give you teenager time and space to find their own resolution to all those tumultous feelings. Its unlikely they'll single-mindedly endorse the ending of a bad marriage even when they're completely in agreement with the need for it. Those flipflop feelings are perfectly normal, and simply need your gentle guidance to work through.
When your teen thinks everything is fine...
Sometimes the reasons for ending a marriage are not out in the open and obvious to the children. Your spouse may have been unfaithful, you may have never actually argued in front of your kids, or maybe you simply grew apart gradually or your spouse says they fell in love with someone else and wants to end the marriage. When your teen believes all is well and is hit suddenly with an announcement of impending divorce, their confusion can feel overwhelming. Be gentle with their anger, answer their questions when you can, and give them time to adjust. If your spouse puts you down to your children, be the bigger person and don't follow suit.
Even if your teen says they're fine, pay attention to signs that they are struggling. No matter how amicable a divorce, it is still a major life change that touches on your child's feelings of security and safety. Sometimes your teen may not bring up their questions until a whole lot of time has passed in their desire to not make things more difficult for you. Let them know that you're still the parent and can handle their concerns.