A child's teen years are like a mid-life crisis. He or she wants autonomy, yet craves acceptance. Add divorce and this emotional rollercoaster gets even bumpier.
This last chapter of our exclusive firstwivesworld series, Your Child is Not a Statistic, will help you balance your 13- to 17-year-old's kid-like needs and adult aspirations. Remember, although it will seem far from obvious at times, your teen still need his parents — he just needs you differently. When your teenager experiences divorce, you play a significant role in how she deals with it. No matter how mature she seems, you should:
• Resist any temptation to regard her as a grown up and include her in your adult problems.
• Know that most teens — 71% according to a Gallup poll — believe their parents should have tried harder to save their marriage.
• Understand that teenagers will likely not only take sides, but try to exploit their parents' weaknesses.
• Be on the lookout for hidden signs of withdrawal and depression.
Here are some tips that can make it easier to explain divorce to your 13- to 17-year-old:
What is divorce?
"Divorce is a legal process that parents go through when they no longer want to be married because they are no longer happy together anymore and have hurt each other too much. It means that we will no longer be married to each other, but we will always be your parents."
Why did it happen?
Some possibilities include:
"There are many reasons why. And it's not the specific items we argued about, but the whole way we approached things. You may have heard us argue about [fill in the blank]. But those weren't the real problems. Many couples don't see eye to eye. But it's all about the attitude you take toward one another, especially when you disagree."
"We didn't listen to each other enough. You know how sometimes you want to say something so much you don't even hear what the other person is saying? That's how your mother/father and I got to be. We cared more about what we wanted to say and not enough about what the other person was saying."
"We didn't take the time to thing How will he/she feel about this? Before we said or did something that hurt him/her or made him/her angry. That was very unfair."
"We fought too much and didn't learn how to talk to each other about our feelings without being angry and hurting each other."
"We didn't know how to stop arguing and walk away from a fight."
"We didn't make enough time to be alone together and be romantic. Couples can always find quiet time to be together. We just didn't do that. (This alleviates your teen's fear that he may have been the reason you two didn't have enough time.)"
"We were not strong enough for each other, and we let other people and things confuse us about our relationship." (This keeps your teen from concluding that interference from others-affairs, in-laws, children-caused the divorce.)
"If other people or things came between us, it was because we let them. Each of us had the responsibility to make sure these outside things didn't affect our relationship, but we failed."
Will we still be a family?
"Yes. Even though your mother/father and I are getting a divorce you will always be part of us. We both still love you and always will. You and Mom/Dad and you and I will always be families. But Mommy and Daddy will not be in a family together even though we both belong to you."
What will happen to me?
"You will be able to see both me and your mother/father a lot." (Then spell out custody and visitation arrangements as clearly and in as much detail as you can, stressing that the child will have some input into the plans.)