Discussing Divorce With Your Teenager
Divorcing is a difficult process and brings up all sorts of emotions for the couple and the children involved. It is an important time in your teenager's life. It can be made a lot less difficult by discussing it in an open and honest way. Explaining the situation and your feelings about it, and giving your child the time and space to express their feelings, will make the whole process easier.
Emotional Issues and DivorceApproximately forty percent of marriages in the UK and Europe end in divorce. Reasons range from the couple simply growing distant to extra-marital affairs, alcoholism and abuse. Teenagers will find the process painful and hard and it can affect their behaviour at home and at school.
It can be difficult for parents going through a break-up to keep their relationship with their children in balance and to communicate openly about what is happening to them. The process can be made a lot less painful for everyone involved by taking the time to talk and listen.
Talking About itThe most important thing is to be honest. Do not underestimate your teenager's ability to understand emotional issues. Set the tone by explaining that you and your partner are breaking up and the reasons why.
You and your spouse may have grown distant from each other, or may no longer be able to live together harmoniously. One of you may not feel the same amount of love you used to.
You might have had an affair, or there could be a new person in your life. You or your partner might have problems with alcohol or an abusive relationship. Talk to your child about the reasons in a way appropriate for their age. If they are young you do not need to explain all the details.
Talk to your teenager about you and your partner's relationship. The positives as well as the negatives. They will understand.
Your child may have a lot of questions. Answer each one in turn and be honest.
Your Teenager's FeelingsAsk them how they feel about it, and listen to their response. Be patient. Their initial reaction might be to shout or to run away. Give them time, but make sure you have the conversation without pushing them. Your divorce will bring up strong emotions in your child which will take a long time to get through.
Some children think the divorce is their fault. Explain to them that it isn't. They might wish they could have done something to prevent it. Or think that if they had behaved better the family would stay together. But the divorce is a result of the couple's relationship, not the relationship with their children.
Your child may feel abandoned, worried, guilty or angry. They might blame either you or your partner, or feel protective towards one of you. They may even be relieved you are breaking up. Give them the space to talk about how they feel. Don't tell them not to be sad. Sadness is a normal feeling under the circumstances.
Their feelings may result in them acting out, making displays of extreme behaviour in order to draw your attention to what's going on inside them. Remain calm, explain what you think they are doing and create opportunities for them to talk about their emotions. Be patient. These things take time to go through.
It is important to realise that their feelings will change over time. Over the coming days, weeks, months and years, some emotions will ease and new events will cause other emotions to reappear.
Practical IssuesYou or your partner may have to move home. This may mean a change of location, school and friends for your teenager. They may be on the verge of going to college or university, or thinking about leaving home. All these issues should be talked about and the options discussed.
The same applies to custodial issues. Make sure your child understands the choices open to them and how their life will change as a result.
If there is a new partner involved, you will probably want to introduce them. Take it slowly. Give your teenager time to come to terms with this new individual.
Getting Through itDivorce is a difficult thing to do and has a powerful emotional effect on every person involved. Stay calm and try not to fight. This is important for your teenager, as it will minimise the emotional damage caused by the event.
When talking with your teenager about your divorce, the most important thing is to be honest. Being open will make your child feel safer about the whole process, and make it easier for them to deal with.