Talking to Teens About Divorce
Raising a teenager can be a complicated experience for any parent. Teens crave independence but are still very reliant on their parents. While they want to break away from their childhood identity and routine, they still crave the stability of home. When stability in the home is shaken up by an impending divorce, a teen's world can be quickly flipped upside down. The way that parents talk to teens about divorce can impact on how they handle the news initially and move forward within the new family structure. Here are some tips for talking to teens about divorce.
Share the News Early and Do It Together
When talking to teens about divorce, it is important not to blindside them or conceal too much information. As parents, be sure to share the news with your teens together. Delivering the message as a united front will help reassure your teens that even though you are ending your marriage, you are still unified as a family and will be into the future. Be sure that you plan a time to tell your teens about your divorce that allows for a few days for them to cope with the news outside of school or other events they are committed to attending. Consider doing so on a Friday evening before a weekend or during summer break when they have more time off from school. Also, don't wait to tell them the news until right before tons of changes start to occur. Talk to your teens about your impending divorce a couple of weeks in advance. This will give them more time to process what is to come such as a parent moving out and a parenting time schedule going into effect. Give them as much information as you can about how your divorce will affect their lives and schedule. Be open to answering any questions that your teens might have about your divorce, but don't get into specifics that might hurt their feelings or make them even more upset. You will probably be answering their questions about the divorce for many weeks to come, so prepare yourself for the ongoing talks about what is happening.
Expect a Strong Reaction
The way that teens react to the news of a divorce can be very different to how younger kids react. Younger kids may shed tears, but they might not completely understand what divorce means. Teens, on the other hand, have a tendency to be more self-centered and temperamental. When teens hear that their parents are getting a divorce, their first reaction may be more about how this will affect them personally. They may become angry at first, then they may become rather distant and want to be left alone. This isn't out of the ordinary, but it might come as a shock to you if you're not prepared for it. Don't push your teen into talking about their feelings if they aren't ready yet. Give them enough space to process the situation on their own, but monitor them closely. Teens might act out more now than before, and they may try and test you to see what they can get away with. Getting divorced shouldn't mean that the rules about what they can and can't do have changed, so keep enforcing them. However, you don't want to be too hard on them if they haven't done anything that calls for it. Always be there if they need to talk, or if they don't feel like talking, just sitting in the same room to watch TV with them will help to reinforce the fact that you are always there for them.
Keep a Steady Routine
Once you have shared the news of your divorce with your teens and have dealt with their initial reaction, it is time to start thinking of the future. Keep their routine as normal and steady as possible. This means allowing them to keep attending the same school, participating in all the same extracurriculars, and spending time with all the same friends. If some aspect of this is not possible due to necessary change such as a move to a new home, take it slow. If the move will call for your child to change schools, let them at least finish out the semester or school year where they are now. If possible, keep your routine over holidays and other special occasions as normal as possible, but again, if they must change, prepare your kids for it. Talk to them about what the plan for those days will be ahead of time so that they have time to mentally prepare. Finally, find time every day to remind your teen that you are there for them and that you still love them just the same. As much as they try to push away, they still crave your acceptance and affection. Whether you show it through cooking their favorite meal for dinner on a night they will be home or sending a quick text just to say "I'm thinking of you," they will notice.
Talking to teens about divorce can be quite difficult, but it is important to be open with them about the situation that your family faces. As parents, tell them early on and do so together to convey the message that you are still a team. Don't be frightened by the intense reaction that your teens may have to this news, but be prepared to be there for them with your love and support no matter what. Finally, keep their routine as steady as possible in order to help make the transition into your new family structure as smooth as possible.
When talking with teens about divorce, they may have lots of questions for you about the family schedule, like which parent they'll be staying with on their next birthday or what's happing over summer break. Using a tool such as the OurFamilyWizard® calendar, both you and your co-parent can keep an open dialogue with your teens in regards to your family's schedule. This might include which parent they are going to be staying in the upcoming weeks, where they will be spending holidays, and so much more. Learn more about using the OFW® calendar to keep your teens on top of the family schedule.