I am always a huge proponent of divorcing couples remembering to behave appropriately as parents during the divorce process. As such I was very happy to see the recent article, A Young Adult’s Reflections About Her Parents’ Divorce in the Huffington Post. The teen of divorced parents who was interviewed provided the following important guidelines:
1. Therapy is important so that the teen has a place to express his or her feelings. Teens and children of divorce don’t usually go to their parents to talk about divorce issues because the parents themselves are involved. “I needed help because my parents were caught up in their own struggles and I got lost.”
2. Co-parenting is critical. “[P]arents [should] seek support to deal with the many emotional, financial and parenting challenges that come with divorce…[P]arents have so many pressures to contend with but…children need their parents and additional support at the same time.” Children are “adjusting to a physical separation from one parent, figuring out schedules, sometimes moving locations and changing schools, deciding which parent to spend holidays with and feeling guilty when she wasn’t with the other parent. Parents’ dating is another major issue. She reflected on how fortunate she is to have a stepmom who respects [her] boundaries and never pretended to take the place of [her] mom or prevent [her] from spending time with her dad. She remembers that she was uncomfortable at first about her dad having a significant other but they both were ‘mindful of us [children] during that time,’ which helped a lot.”
3. Parent must “understand is how detrimental it is for them to parentify their children by sharing their adult problems with them, confiding in them or expecting them to reverse roles and become their parents’ caregivers.” This extremely important guideline that is probably violated more than any other. It may be difficult but please understand that your child or teen will be grateful that you remembered your parental status and didn’t share your adult issues with them.
4. “When asked about what children and teens need from parents, [she] responded that children in elementary school need consistent discipline, co-parenting and routines. Adolescents need boundaries. ‘It is easy to split and manipulate your parents when you are a teenager and you know your parents don’t get along.’” Don’t allow your guilt over the divorce allow you to cheat your child or teen out of the parenting they need.
5. The teens uniformly stated that they yearned for a sense of family. Friends help. Your teen may seek a substitute family. Try to put your teen’s needs first. He or she is seeking what they need right now. Provide the best semblance of a family that you can.
“As a young adult, [she] believes that divorce can be a healthy and productive event for a family. She can see now that her parents weren’t good for each other. ‘I have love and empathy for each parent,’ she said. [This teen] had the support of her parents to work through issues in therapy. She maintains a loving relationship with each parent and is open and willing to address issues with them now that she wasn’t able to in the past.
Children and teens want both parents involved in their lives. Supporting the relationship with the alternate parent is tantamount to supporting your child. The high road will lead to a better relationship for you in the long run. Remember these guidelines and don’t tear each other apart in the divorce process. You may be making the best parenting decision of your life.