The teen is not potentially faced with making a decision about who to live with. In both cases, there is sorrow and grieving, but in divorce, there may be a great deal more going on. And it’s important to remember that even the most competent and confident-appearing teen is, at some level, devastated by the divorce of his parents and the dissolution of his family.
Many states wisely require divorcing parents of minor children to attend a parenting workshop before their divorce can be finalized. Find out if your state offers such a class. If they don’t, contact local agencies like United Way. Call large churches in your area. They often have divorce support ministries for the whole family. Check with your employer or your spouse’s employer.
Many companies today have recognized the considerable value in offering Employee Assistance Plans to their workforce. These are almost always confidential and free. Find out if you have one. Let’s say, however, that despite your best efforts, you are unable to locate this kind of support. You can still support your children yourself as they deal with your divorce. Often, divorce is so painful and traumatic that parents are too caught up in their own issues to be fully aware of the pain their children are feeling. If this divorce is difficult for you, I absolutely guarantee you it is just as difficult for your child. The issues may be different, and expressed differently, but they are there.
You almost certainly have read that children commonly blame themselves for divorcing parents. This fact makes it absolutely critical that you consciously separate the divorce from any issues you may have been having with your children, particularly with teenagers. You must have the difficult discussion in which you reassure your child that the divorce is an adult decision, made by adults, just as was the decision to marry. Another issue with divorce and teenagers is a terrible sense of having loyalties split. Teenage boys may feel they have to protect mom, particularly if it’s obvious another woman was involved. Teenage girls may think it’s awful that dad is eating canned beans every night.
As parents, it is your responsibility to continue to act like parents. Don’t allow your teens to become the parents. They aren’t ready for it, and you still need to be doing the parenting. Some teenagers want their parents to re-unite, and some, albeit not consciously, really fan the flames of dissention between their parents. Don’t date your ex. Don’t act as if nothing has happened and have the very same family holiday rituals you have always had. Something has happened. Honor that decision. If you and your spouse are considering re-marriage, that needs to be a private matter. If it fails, it could be like a second divorce.
Your children should not be party to its contemplation. For the children who seem to want to keep the conflict alive, assure them that you and your ex are no longer married, are no longer a couple in that sense, but that you are united as two people who want only the best for them as parents. And function that way.
Don’t send messages with your children. Don’t grill your children about the new love interest or the new house. They don’t need to be involved. The bottom line is to continue to be parents without being spouses. This is certainly a tall order. Even in an amicable divorce, there will be some rough patches. But if you can continue to repeat a sort of mantra to yourself to remind yourself that “it’s about the kids, it’s not about us, it’s about the kids,” you will be on your way to helping your children adjust to a difficult situation. You will be role models for how to handle such a thing, not role models for how NOT to behave.