Parenting after a divorce can be tough, but even the quiet kids need attention.
Recently I spent time with my sweet fourteen-year-old niece whose parents have divorced and remarried. Seeing my niece brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings about when I was a young girl trying to navigate between the two different worlds and cultures of my mom's house versus my dad's. My own parents divorced and remarried when I was very young, too. While my niece’s situation is different in a lot of ways from my own and, obviously, she is her own person, we share a tendency to be highly aware of the emotional temperatures around us. We both pick up on the emotions of others and tend to want to smooth over any discord that might be present.
This is a trait that is fairly common in kids from blended families — particularly for oldest or middle girls. Without a doubt, this ability to read other people's emotions has been a plus — a stepping stone leading me towards a career in mental health — and for many girls, this helps us mature emotionally at an early age. But, it also can be a burden — a weight that threatens to swallow us up whole.
So, for you divorced, non-custodial parents of young girls out there, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Don’t Assume, Ask: Remember that while we are still your little girl, we are also developing with new thoughts and feelings. Just because you knew us at 2 or 4 or 10 does not mean you know our thoughts and feelings at 14.
- Even Non-Squeaky Wheels Need Some Grease Now And Then: Many times, us empathetic girls are very well-behaved and eager to please. But just because we are not throwing fits and demanding your attention, does not mean we do not need it.
- Stop To Listen To Us: Just like with most women, "It's fine" usually means the opposite. Don't force an answer, but also don't settle for "It's fine." We might need more time and encouragement to say how we really feel. We are highly aware of everyone else's feelings in the house, so we might think thoughts like, "I don't want to add to the problem" or "I'll just be quiet so everything calms down." Don't let us shush ourselves! If we hold it in now, it will most likely explode or implode later.
- Remember, We're Still Just Kids: Even though we are maturing quickly, we still misunderstand and over-personalize things. Make sure that when you are listening, you are listening to how we understand things. Let us have our feelings, but help us out if we are making assumptions about how other people feel or taking things too personally.
- Please Let Us Adjust To Our New Family Situation In Our Own Time: Remember, we are squeezing all this bonding into the shortened time frame of a weekend or two rather than every day like you. You might have chosen this new wife or husband and they might be great, but we might need more time to adjust.
- We Still Need One-On-One Time With Our Biological Parent: Yes, we need to bond with our new family members. Yes, we need to feel included in the family as a whole, but if you remember to carve out some special time just for us (even if it's just a 15-30 minute talk alone at bedtime), it will help us to feel comfortable enough to adjust to the new normal.
- Finally, Every Kid Interprets Their Life In Their Own Unique Way: For one kid, taking them out for ice cream might make them feel on top of the world. For another, it might feel like you are singling them out. You may have the best intentions in the world, but if it does not feel good to us kids, it will not have the results you want. This has nothing to do with how good a parent you are. It's just that every situation is colored by our perspective. Your job is to become aware of our perspective so that if we are off-track, you can help guide us back. Again, the easiest way to learn what works for us is to ask.
Guiding a blended family can be a tough job at times. Kuddos to all those weekend warriors — the non-custodial parents out there who are making the effort to stay connected to their kids. Hopefully these thoughts will help ease the process.
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