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Parents of young children may feel bad about divorcing, fearing that being split between two homes would be too hard for their little ones, who may not even be able to fully grasp the concept of divorce. By the time your kids are in their teens, though, things shouldn't be as difficult, right. Teens understand what divorce is. They probably have many friends whose parents are divorced. They spend all their time in their rooms with the door closed, anyway—how much difference does it make which house their room is in?
As it turns out, it does make some difference. Your divorce does affect your teen on a variety of levels, including social development. Here are some things you should understand to make navigating your divorce less stressful for your teen—and yourself.
Parenting a teen is challenging, and (yes, seriously) rewarding. Parenting a teen through your divorce and its aftermath adds a layer of complexity to the challenges that this time of life already holds. Your own emotional reserves are probably low, and the demands on your patience higher than ever.
You're probably experiencing conflicting emotions about your teen, too. On the one hand, you're probably realizing that, in a few years, your child is going to be setting off on his or her own. There's so much you wanted to teach your child, so many experiences you wanted to share, and now the time to do so seems so limited. With your divorce, it's even more so, since your child is spending some of that precious time with their other parent. The temptation may exist to try to spend as much time as possible with your children during your own parenting time, to “cram in” quality time. Your teen may resist, shunning “babyish” things and seeking out even more time with friends.
Other times, you may feel like your teen isn't growing up quickly enough. You may barely have the emotional energy to get through the day, and your teen may seem needier than ever. If this is your experience, you're not alone. Just as you're learning to grant your teen increasing responsibility and independence, your teen is learning who she is, trying on the persona of adulthood. However, she's not yet completely ready to let go of childhood, and the need to cling to childhood may be exacerbated by the stress of losing a major source of childhood security—your intact home.
These two teens—the one sprinting toward adulthood, and the one clinging to childhood—may alternate appearances in your home with astonishing rapidity. Hang in there—this too, shall pass.
The single best thing you can do is to let your teen know that he or she is heard.
If your child is complaining bitterly that he has to miss a party with friends because he's scheduled for parenting time with dad, telling him he's being unreasonable isn't going to help and may only infuriate him more. Amazingly, saying something as simple as. "You sound really mad to have to miss this party, and I'm so sorry you're disappointed," shows acceptance of your teen's feelings. When you give your kids the permission to feel how they feel—however they feel—they no longer have to fight for the right to have those feelings. Often, that validation alone helps to de-escalate an emotional outburst.
Another important thing to do is avoid falling into the trap of either encouraging your teen to remain dependent on you beyond when that's appropriate (because it makes you feel needed) or encouraging them to take on an adult role they're not ready for (because you need someone to confide in). Your teen needs you to continue to be their parent, both a safe place to land and solid ground from which to spread their wings and fly. If this feels like more than you can handle right now, you need and deserve the support of a counselor who can both help you, and help you guide your teen, through divorce.
If you'd like to learn more about weathering the challenges of parenting a teen through divorce, we invite you to contact us at Mundahl Law to set up a consultation. Our experienced family law attorneys care about more than just your legal matter; we're committed to supporting you and your family in building a better life after divorce.