How do young people respond to divorce?
In general, the ways in which young people deal with divorce are the same as dealing with the loss of a loved one. It is common for a young person to feel as though the family has died, the marriage has died, and life as they have known it has passed on.
Most common reactions young people have to divorce:
- Feeling angry and disillusioned.
- Feeling abandoned. Thinking that the parent is leaving him/her, not the spouse.
- Trying to take control over the family.
- Showing extreme behavior.
- Becoming moralistic, or becoming involved in high-risk behaviors such as drug use, shoplifting, ditching school, etc.
- Trying to act extremely good in an effort to bring the family back together.
- Trying to cut one or both parents out of his or her life.
- Feeling as if he or she will never be able to have a long-term relationship.
- Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility.
- Worrying about financial matters.
- Feeling ashamed.
- Feeling depressed. (Link to symptoms of depression)
What can parents do?
- Thoroughly think through the implications that divorce will have on your family before making a quick decision.
- Do not involve your child in arguments with your spouse.
- Communicate to your child that they are not to blame for the divorce.
- Keep routines and don’t change rules. The need for consistency is key!
- Do not use your child as a replacement for a partner. Talking about adult problems with young people is overwhelming.
- Remember the other pressures that your children face on a day-to-day basis. Give attention to those problems as well.
- Talk to them about the changes that may need to take place due to the divorce without complaining about the other spouse or giving more information than you need to.
- Ask your child, “How do you feel about what is going on?”- “What can I do for you?” Let your child respond and do not judge their feelings. Listen!
- Assure your child that your love for them remains.
- Don’t make it difficult for your child to have a relationship with his or her grandparents, aunts and uncles. Assure your child that he/she will see his/her extended family.
- Participate in family counseling. Even if you have already made the decision to get divorced, counseling with the entire family is very effective.
What can you do?
- Understand that you are not to blame for the divorce.
- Try not to hide your feeling from your parents. Be open and honest about your feelings and fears.
- If you have younger siblings, make yourself available to them.
- Give each of your parents the “Bill of Rights.” If they violate your rights, let them know.
- Seek support from other family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings).
- Try going to a support group. Dealing with divorce is hard, to say the least. (Link to Children of Divorced Parents meeting schedule)
- Understand that this is a tough time for your parents. Things will not always be the way they are. Give your parents and yourself time to adjust.
- Seek the help of a professional counselor.
We know how hard it is to communicate clearly, when your emotions get in the way … so try and follow the Bill of Rights, to help bridge the communication gap between you and your parents. This is a good step in creating and maintaining boundaries and open discussion about your feelings as it relates to the change in your family.
Bill of Rights
- I love both of you and I need you both.
- I will not be your messenger. If you have something to say to each other, you will need to talk one on one.
- If you have something negative to say about each other, don’t say it around me.
- I am not a spy. Don’t question me about what is happening at each other’s house.
- I will not take sides.
- Don’t think that you are the only ones who are affected by the divorce.
- Remember the things that are important to me.
- I like spending time with each of you. Don’t make me feel bad if I seem to prefer one of you over the other.