We all know that divorce is a messy game. Messy for the husband, messy for the wife, killer of the family dynamics that previously defined you. The end of a marriage impacts everyone in the family unit; children quite possibly the most effected, because after all, it’s not their marriage that is not working, not their love that did not stand the test of time. Kids all want and need to know that they are cherished, even when the people they love the most no longer cherish each other.
For teenagers especially, the transition from a traditional family unit to two households can be a tender one. Teens are dealing with so many of their own stresses; predictable inner stuff like changing bodies and personal growth and rebellion, questions of self worth and belonging. Outside pressures like social media, doing well in school, getting into and enjoying college. The teen years are seeing an influx of anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Divorce brings families to a difficult crossroads. Anticipating what your teenager is thinking or feeling is only half of the equation. If you could get your teenage son or daughter to text or tweet you about divorce and how it relates to them, what would they say?
- Play nice in the sandbox! Please remember that if sand is blowing around, it can get in my eyes as well. Remember to play well with everyone, the space we are sharing belongs to all of us; you are still my family even if we are sometimes playing in two different playgrounds.
- I want to be part of the family game, just don’t make me the pawn! You will both always be my family and I love you equally. If you make me take sides or speak ill of one another to me, you dilute every value you ever taught me about relationships, and family, and forgiveness.
- Do a reality check with yourselves and with me. It’s not easy to be farmed back and forth between two homes, or to have to miss an event that is important to me because it’s dad’s weekend. Allow me the freedom to make decisions that may not be exactly in line with yours. Include me in the master plans so that I have a voice in how my free time is spent or in what my wants may be. Fine tune plans regularly. Remember that I may not always act it, but I actually want to spend time with each of you, let’s make our time together more about the memories and less about the struggle.
- Blink and you’ll miss me! I will only be a teenager for 7 years of both of our lives. In that time, I will bring you joy, frustration, smiles and worry. I will push your buttons, make you proud, test you, be your greatest accomplishment and talk back to you. DON’T MISS IT! Our new arrangement is hard enough; so take the extra time to really get to know me. Spend one-on-one time together where we do something memorable. Teach me to play a sport, to cook, to explore. Give me space to be, give me hugs unconditionally, and know when to be my parent and when to be my friend. Be at peace with each other long enough to remember that our family did not get a divorce, you did. We will always be a family, you will both always be my parents and I will always be your child.
- Walk the walk! Say what you mean and mean what you say. I am a sponge and as a sponge, I soak it all in. Know that I am watching you both for cues on how to behave, for help with life skills, to learn what to do and when to do it. I am becoming an adult, are you remaining one? It is okay to have failures along the way, I know that this is a new chapter in your lives, but please try to lead by example, even when things may not be perfect, because it is your examples that set the tone for the rest of my life.