Parents splitting up can be a time of mixed emotion for young people. Prior to this happening it’s not uncommon for there to have been long periods of bickering and upset or equally uncomfortable times of silence and tension at home. That situation can gradually become accepted as a normal part of everyday life. Even though it’s unpleasant and perhaps even distressing it can become all too familiar and routine. When news of an impending divorce is announced it can cause conflicting emotions to surface; relief, sadness, fear at what is to come, the impact it’s going to have on everyone’s lives.
When parents divorce it may result in their children feeling obligated to take sides, to decide who is the good or bad parent. They may feel that they can only be loyal to one parent, which effectively may mean rejecting or appearing to openly disapprove of the other. When this situation is close to home you can feel in need of a few helpful suggestions.
Let’s look at some tips to help you cope when parents divorce.
– An ally is important. Someone to talk to, whether it be a grandparent, schoolteacher, family friend; someone who is sympathetic and is ready to listen and support you in coming to terms with your new situation. It’s not unusual to at first feel embarrassed or ashamed about the change in circumstances, especially if it means moving home, changing school, having to explain why one parent is absent or why your financial freedom has become curtailed. Find someone who you feel is trustworthy, honest, impartial and who will not betray your secrets unless they become concerned as to your safety and wellbeing.
– You may feel that you’re being disloyal to one parent if you’re nice to the other, but this is their divorce, not yours. Your parents may have changed in the way they feel about each other but that should not impact on your relationship with them. Yes, a period of readjustment is often needed but many parents want their children to maintain a positive relationship with both parents afterwards. Try to be supportive to both during this difficult time and be open about your feelings too. Refuse to be drawn into their dramas and say if you feel that you’re being told too much or are finding it all too difficult. Then you can be there for each other in a positive, appropriate way, as you learn to move forward together.
– Familiarity and routine is important at this time. Knowing where you will live, the arrangements for school, times you’ll see your absent parent, whether you’re allowed to call them and when are all important facts that it’s good for you to know as soon as possible. Being aware of how the change will impact on your daily life is important.
– Refuse to be drawn into arguments or answer lots of questions. If that happens you may find that you feel under pressure to take sides and express negative opinions. Try to explain that you don’t know or want to answer these questions. It may help if you talk to a family friend or relative and explain that you’re being placed in an unfair or difficult situation which you’re struggling to manage comfortably. They may deal with that on your behalf.
– Avoid the temptation to make the absent parent, often the father, feel guilty or have to suffer because he left. It can be tempting to say ‘Mum lets me do this’ or ‘Dad always does that’, but remember that your parents are new to this situation too and are trying to put the new arrangements together as quickly as possible. Avoid playing one parent against the other.
Dad may have more money but is often the one who is now living away from home, having to start again in an unfamiliar home. Mum is often the one who is there for you every day, trying her best to manage on her own, frequently with less money and support. Often, though not always, both parents have made the decision to divorce, but it’s still tough until things settle down.
– Accept that parents often feel guilty about their divorce. They may feel to blame because of something they did, how they behaved, the fact that their marriage failed, and may need time to recover from the breakup of the home, the disruption to all your lives. Appreciate that your parents may at times be upset, feel bad, upset, even unwell, but equally allow yourself time to grieve as well.
Being able to discuss this new, unfamiliar situation is important. It helps to talk about your feelings, come to terms with them and learn that you do not have to be strong and hide your hurt and distress. Learn to be gentle with each other, mutually supportive through this period of change and transition.