If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.
If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
It is a common thing to hear that a couple has stayed in an unhappy marriage “for the children.” The ironic part is that of all age groups, when it comes to divorce, young children often have it easier than older children and even adult children.
Couples with teenagers or adult children have the attitude that adults and teens are more mature so they can handle difficult life events better than a young child. The truth is that adult children of a divorcing couple are often devastated by the news and can affect them to the level of it impacting their own lives and causing trust issues that can eventually even lead to their own divorce. For adults, the revelation of their parent’s divorce is a tough pill to swallow. As adults, a divorcing parent might even share more information regarding the decision to divorce. This can lead to a bombshell of a revelation such as, “your father and I have not gotten along for the last 20 years.”
They may even tell the adult child they stayed together for the sake of their younger self. This will cause the adult child to go back to a life previously well remembered and think that their entire life was based on a lie. Since the adult was told the parents stayed together “for the sake of the children” the adult may even develop a deep sense of responsibility for contributing to their parent’s unhappy life.
When things are not good at home where there are young children, parents will try to shield their kids from the truth of their reality. Even if parents do divorce, the news is brought to the young child in a very careful manner filled with reassurances of love for them, and that things will be fine and it is most definitely not their fault. This same protection is often not used for teenagers, and rarely used for adults.
While we have discussed the ramifications of divorce on adult children in the past, we want to take a look at the impact of divorce on teenagers. Even in the best of circumstances, the teenage years is an extremely difficult and awkward time. Teens are dealing with school, being forced to make decisions about college and courses which may decide the path their lives will take. They are also dealing with the everyday issues of being a teen. Things like dating, trying to figure out who they are, and dealing with puberty and raging hormones, and all the changes associated with growing up can put a level of stress and pressure on a teenager that is internally unbearable.
As a teenager, parents will look at their children as being more mature and will discuss their issues, such as a pending divorce in a more open way thinking their age and maturity will allow them to take this unpleasant news in stride.
In actuality, about 25% of teenagers will experience physical or emotional problems related to the changes caused by divorce.
As a parent, it is important to recognize the signs that your teenage children are not dealing with your divorce as well as you would have hoped.
Some of these signs may include:
For some teenagers the news of their parent’s divorce might be the proverbial bridge too far. The news can cause an emotional break and can even lead to suicidal ideations and even attempts to take their own lives.
The best way to deal with your teenager during a divorce is to remember what it was like to be a teenager yourself. You do not want to talk to your teen as if they are a toddler, but you also do not want to give them the raw, unfiltered details of your failed marriage. Children of any age still require reassurance and still require some level of protection from the full truth about their parents and their flaws.
Teenagers might act out and it is important to maintain a level of discipline and not let them run rampant because you feel they deserve to let off steam from hearing bad news. Teenagers still need, and even desire structure in their lives. This does not change because you have decided to get divorced. That structure is even more important.
Be present for your children. Talk with them and ask them about how they feel and take a genuine interest in their answers and their interests. Don’t dismiss their feelings, because even if they do not fully understand the situation, being dismissed in such a way can lead to additional stress and anxiety and lead them to think you are not interested in their feelings.
Encourage your teenager to speak to a counselor at school or enlist the professional help of a therapist. Teenagers are going to want to talk to their friends. This is an important part if their development, but if the only voices they are hearing are that of other teens who have potentially made their own poor decisions, it could lead to more serious issues down the road.
Nobody ever gets married with the vision of a future filled with divorce, and no one ever has children with the idea that they will not legally be able to spend every moments of those kids’ life with them, and that is how it should be. We can only hope that everyone who gets married and has children does so with the best of intentions, and if divorce occurs, we can only hope that all parties make plans to handle it with as much grace and optimism. What no one could ever have imagined in their wildest dreams was how the Global Pandemic would disrupt all those well-intentioned plans.
As we are still in the thick of it, we have missed almost all the big holidays with our extended families, which is hard enough. Christmas without Grandma’s hugs seems a travesty! But what if stay at home orders or quarantine prevents parents from seeing their kids!? Sure, it’s painful for the divorced parents, but without care taken-this time can cause damage to those relationships with our kids we work so hard to create and maintain.
Fortunately, this didn’t happen before we were connected by the internet, personal computers, and smart phones that utilize the technology of both. Imagine a toddler going nine months without hearing his mom or dad’s voice had this happened “back in the day”, like even 15 years ago! The kid would have trouble recognizing the necessarily absentee parent, and that parent would have missed so many milestones of growth! With so many negatives associated with social media and internet obsession, the silver lining is that at LAST those things are finally making themselves useful by providing real, meaningful connection between families.
Most parents have had to be at least partially responsible for the education of the kids while school was mandatorily closed. Because of that, everyone has really had to step up to the plate about learning to use video-calling and teleconferencing. A lot of school systems have even provided the kids with the tablets or laptops to do this with! Once you learn how to connect your kids with online classes and set up learning programs, it becomes so much easier to set up video calling between dearly missed loved ones—or parents that aren’t able to see their kids during the pandemic.
This needs to be a real priority for the custodial parent, and it can seem rough on top of all the other stuff you are being burdened during the global crises. What, you have to keep the kids alive, healthy, fed AND educated plus find time in the day to make sure your ex can facetime or Zoom them? This without scheduling in shower and bathroom breaks for yourself? The answer, for everyone’s sake is yes! If you want healthy kids with stable relationships and an appreciation of family, then both parents need to get on board the virtual train on the regular.
No one needs to go into how valuable setting up a structured routine is for children, because we have already done so in blogs past. Parenting experts agree that since the routine of school and custody, and playdates, and after school activities have ground to a halt, kids are floundering in the “new normal” to find acceptable ways to be. Setting up education time and play time is certainly important but establishing a regular call time for face-to-face talks with a parent they are not seeing enough of is another way of establishing that routine. Make it clear they can call at any time—but that these regular video appointments will be happening regardless, even if it’s just to check in, every day. It will become something everyone can look forward to, including parent on duty. That could be the time they schedule that shower!
This is also a useful tool around the holidays, where we idealize the concept of familial togetherness. In years past, relatives from out of the area would call on the day of the holiday and the phone would get passed around so that everyone would get a chance to say a few words. NOW, literally everyone and their uncle can join one of these video calls/conferences and enjoy a toast and a story while looking at the faces of their loved ones. It has been made so easy, that even grandma can do it! By being creative, you might be able to arrange for everyone to open presents at the same time or enjoy the same cookies so that you can make new memories that aren’t about how far apart we are—but what we can share together because technology has allowed us to.