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Divorce & Separation: How to Survive
Your parents are fighting all the time…
You have to turn the music up or leave the house to avoid it. Then they finally drop the bomb – they’re getting divorced. You feel relieved, right? Wrong. More likely, you’re desperately sad. You may feel as if someone close to you has died. And you’re really, really angry. No one asked your opinion. Aren’t you part of this family, too?
Divorce rates are on the rise.
Chances are, your grandparents stayed married all their lives, but these days about half of marriages in Canada will end in divorce. You probably have tons of friends whose parents are divorced. You see divorce on TV, in books, at the movies, everywhere. Divorce has become normal, commonplace. Too bad that doesn’t make it hurt any less.
If your parents are getting divorced, here are some tips to that will :
Let yourself feel what you feel: It’s okay to be very, very upset. Even if you once wished your parents would divorce, when it actually happens, you’re shattered.
“A divorce is catastrophic to a child no matter what age they are. It is a real turning point; a crisis in their life,” says psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini.
Don’t blame yourself
No matter what you did, even if you pitted your parents against each other or asked them point blank to divorce, this is not about you. It’s about them, and it’s not your fault.
Do you have friends whose parents are divorced? Talk to them about how you feel. You can also talk to an adult who is not your parent, such as a favorite aunt or uncle, teacher, guidance counselor, coach, or whoever you feel close to.
Communicate with your parents
Your parents are hurting, too, and they really want to make this as easy on you as possible. But they can’t help you unless you tell them what you need. Is it more alone time with one or both of them? Reassurance about where and how you’ll live? A preference about who you’ll live with? Be honest. Your parents may not be able to grant all your wishes, but they’ll do a lot better job if they know what you want.
Write it down
Keep a journal of your feelings. “Whatever you can fit from your head onto paper, you won’t have to act it out,” says Rapini. In other words, you’re less likely to feel the need to forget your problems through self-destructive behaviors like drinking, doing drugs, or failing in school.
Have friends whose parents are divorcing?
Offer to be there and to listen. Validate their feelings by saying things like, “yeah, that sounds tough. It would make me angry (or sad), too.” Reassure them and offer them hope. Be sure to tell an adult if they start talking about suicide or hurting themselves or others.
There’s no way around it. Divorce is catastrophic for children, even once they reach the teen years.
“It does something to a kid’s trust,” says psychotherapist, lecturer, and author Mary Jo Rapini, LPC from Houston, Texas. “Something you believed in so fundamentally, to see that broken is really heart-wrenching. It really rocks their world.”
So, avoid it if you can. But if divorce has become the only option for you, here are some tips to help you help your teens cope:
- Be aware that they may start out by putting on a brave face, saying they’re glad you’re divorced, but expect that façade to crack. Your teens will likely experience not only deep sadness but also intense anger.
- Whenever possible, include your teens in any decision-making about how you will manage your lives post-divorce.
If you can work in at least some of their ideas, you’ll give them the sense that they have some options and control.
- Keep post-divorce life as similar as possible to how it was before.
“As much as possible,” says Rapini, teens should “stay in their own room in their own home in their own school district. Make it part of divorce agreement for at least one year after the divorce. Otherwise the grief will be tripled.”
Treat your children exactly as you did before the divorce.
- Make sure you get regular alone time with each of you children.
- Investigate the possibility of getting them into a support group of their peers. Find one near you at DivorceCare for Kids.
- Be aware that children and teens are very attuned to your facial cues. No matter how hard you try to hide it, they will know when you’re upset.
- Encourage your teens to communicate their needs and feelings with you. – Tell your teens’ teachers what is happening at home, and ask them to let you know if there are signs at school that they are in distress.
- Don’t force your teens to interact with your new boyfriends or girlfriends until they are ready.
“What happens notoriously that causes problems is when parents split up, the one that doesn’t have primary custody usually starts dating,” says Rapini.
To teens, that can feel like a slap in the face. They also may fear they are being replaced by this new person.
- Never, ever try to outdo or bad mouth your ex.
“You may have a sore tongue from biting it, but bite it you should,” says Rapini.
Remember that insulting your ex may feel like a personal attack to your teen.
- As much as possible, work with your ex to keep your teens’ life running smoothly. Write down your personal hot button issues and have your ex do the same. Then agree to never, ever bring those up again. Don’t be territorial about whether your teens keep their stuff at your place or your ex’s. Get professional mediation help if you need it. You can find a mediator through Family Mediation Canada.
By Alison Palkhivala