Parents who divorce when their children are in their teens sometimes think it will be easier on them than if they were still young children. They likely have friends with divorced parents. They’re old enough to understand the reasons why marriages break up.
It’s crucial, however, not to underestimate the impact of your divorce on them. In addition to it likely affecting where they live and their lifestyle, parental divorce can cause them to question their own feelings about relationships and even their identity.
Be aware of your teen’s emotional health
Some teens show their feelings by yelling or crying. They may express those feelings to you or take them out on others. Some teens turn to alcohol, drugs and/or sex.
Others turn their feelings inward. They may shut down and not want to talk. However, you may notice signs of emotional distress like changes in their eating or sleeping habits, a drop in grades and less interest in being with friends and other activities.
Try to maintain consistent rules and expectations
Teens often take advantage of the fact that their parents are consumed with their divorce by doing things they normally wouldn’t. It’s important for parents not to relax the rules because they feel sad or guilty about “breaking up” the family.
As much as kids may rebel against them, they understand that their parents have rules because they care about them. It’s best if you and your co-parent can agree to maintain consistent rules and expectations across your homes rather than vie to be the “fun” parent.
Don’t share too much with your teen
Just because your child is old enough to understand the reasons for the break-up, that doesn’t mean they need the details or should be the person you vent to about your soon-to-be-ex. No child of any age should hear one parent regularly speaking negatively about the other.
Even if you consider your teen your “best friend,” you need to find others to talk to – like friends, other family members or a therapist. Otherwise, as one co-parenting coach asserts, “you are putting them in an adult conversation that they are not prepared for emotionally or psychologically.”
Even if your teen is going away to college in a few years or sooner, take the time and care to work out a parenting plan with your co-parent that focuses on what’s in your child’s best interests.