How NOT To Handle a Divorce

divorce, divorced parents, dealing with divorce, split familiesLauren Lee is a 16 year old gal from southern California. She competes in a national Debate league, loves public speaking, and wants to one day have a career in either Law or Politics. Lauren is also a teen spokesperson for the The Great American “No Bull Challenge”, devoted to anti-bullying. She strives to use her rocky past to support and help other teens who have experienced, or are experiencing the same things she did. Follow Lauren Lee at The Washington Project.

 

You know those really creepy movies? Not horror movies… but SUSPENSE movies? Where they torture you with uneasy tension for the entire length of the film?

I always hated those.

I hear that some people really enjoy them. It’s a sort of adrenaline thing for them or something lame like that. Personally, I find the constant emotional turmoil to be totally NOT worth the 13 bucks I paid to go see it in theaters . . . The only thing substantial I was left with from experience were deepened frown lines on my forehead and sweaty palms!

Unfortunately, millions of children and teens each year have to live through the same, terrifying suspense scenario that we so often see on the big screen. Only this time, it isn’t Hollywood entertainment – it’s real life. Never knowing what’s around the corner, they live in a state of constant emotional unease that not only lowers their sense of self, but impairs their relationship with their parents.

Divorce.

It’s the dreaded 7-letter word that no kid ever wants to hear. It’s scary enough in and of itself . . . But parents often make it worse than it has to be. I realize that you parents reading this aren’t all “MWAHAHA I am going to torture my child through the process of this divorce!” . . . Of course not. This is a painful process for everyone. As a parent, you are most likely doing everything in your power to make it as easy as possible on your kids.

Unfortunately, the problem lies in the solution. Parents try to shield their precious children, but end up hurting them instead. You’ll do anything you can to “protect” them from getting hurt, but that’s why I’m writing this — to tell you that while your intention might be to protect your child, it’s actually resulting in more emotional harm than you realize.

It was 2008, and I was 13 years old. My world turned upside down faster than you could say Jack Robinson. In the course of a couple months, my father was hauled off by police, my parents began the process of divorce, and I was left in the dark.

I had never experienced anything like this ever before. My family was normal one day and torn apart the next.

My parents had been told not talk to me about the divorce, for sake of my “protection.”

Biggest. Mistake. Ever.

Parents, tell your teens things. Be open with them about your feelings; be honest about what’s happening. There’s nothing worse than having to grapple through the dark.

For teens, it’s better to know what it is they’re dealing with, than to deal with something unknown. 

Here are the three biggest problems with “covering up” and hiding your feelings as a parent, and why that is so detrimental to your teen:

 

1. Lowers Our Sense of Self-Worth

I’ll never forget how it felt when one of my aunts on my dad’s side of the family looked at me down her nose and said, “you’re just … too young to understand.” She brushed it off like she could’ve cared less about me, or my circumstances. I was honestly curious –I wanted to know what was going on, so that I could understand how I could better support my parents through this time. Yet, the only thing I got was, “you’re too young to matter.” Parents, never exclude your children. Sit down with them, and have a frank conversation. Otherwise, you’ll find your kids pulling away, because THEY don’t want to be hurt anymore.

 

2. Hiding the Truth Encourages Resentment

Teens want to be trusted. The cliché is true:

“You always treat me like a kid!!!”

“Well, then stop acting like a kid!!”

…. Yeah.

When going through a divorce, parents must be careful not to pound that message anymore than it already has been. Quite frankly, even during normal situations, it annoys us when we’re treated like youngsters. That annoyance is heightened times 100 in stressful scenarios such as separations/divorces. Don’t breed resentment – be honest with us.

 

3. By Covering the Truth, You Build a Wall of Separation

As parents, you’ve heard that you need to be “MOM/DAD”, not “best friend.” But in cases of divorce, be careful not to completely alienate the “friend” side. When my parents went through a divorce, I lost a lot of friends. I was alone for the majority of the time. I needed my parents to be my friends, in addition to the authority figures they’re “supposed” to be. My Mom did a great job at that, and our relationship has grown closer than it’s ever been. But if a parent doesn’t reach out, divorce can quickly build a huge wall between parents and their teens.

 

Hopefully this article has been helpful in showing parents that hiding what’s going on from their teens isn’t the best move. Being open and honest is the way to build a bridge to your teen during these hard times, instead of keeping them in suspense.

 

Photo Credit: PinkStock Photos, Flikr


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