When your parents get divorced
How to deal with this difficult experience
Written by Evelyn Coffin
Voices - Advice
Young people share advice based on their experiences.
Divorce is a huge change, and no matter how easy or messy it might be, if your parents get divorced, your life is probably going to be different. It doesn’t have to be bad, but it doesn’t have to be good either, and it’s often really, really complicated. Whatever way your family works it out, just remember: divorce happens. It’s not your fault. And, things will get better with time.
The Emotional Rollercoaster
Divorce is hard for everyone involved, and that difficulty often comes with a lot of emotions. It’s okay to feel all of these, or some of these, or even none of them, just as long as you’re dealing with them in a healthy way. Here’s a few that might hit you.
Your parents getting a divorce is never your fault. It’s not your fault if your parents weren’t happy; it’s not your fault if you didn’t notice if your parents weren’t happy; it’s not your fault if they tried to make it work just for you; it’s not your fault, ever. Divorce is about things not working between two people, and while there can be a lot of factors, you don’t need to blame yourself in any way.
For some people, their parents’ divorce is actually a relief. If things have been tense for a while, it’s okay to feel relieved that things are finally ending. Odds are, your parents are divorcing for good reasons, and now things have a chance to get better for everyone.
If your parents’ divorce came as a surprise to you, you might feel shocked or disillusioned, especially if you hadn’t really noticed. This one just takes some time for you to adjust to the idea. You still don’t have to like it, but you may be able to see silver linings in time.
Anger or resentment
Divorce is a huge readjustment, and it’s easy to resent or feel like you hate your parents too, for making you move or change schools, or for hurting each other, or just for the giant change that they’re causing in your family. Try not to lash out; everyone has to adjust, not just you.
This one’s also a big one, because really there’s no way to know what happens next. You might be worried about where you’ll end up, how your parents will get on, or even about your own relationships in the future. It doesn’t help to worry: talk about your concerns with your parents or another person you trust, and they might help to reassure you.
Sometimes you may feel stressed out about everything but your parents’ divorce, and that still may be the cause. If you’re suddenly way too tired all the time, or not hungry, or stress about things you wouldn’t normally, it may be the divorce that’s doing it. Be honest with yourself if that is the cause: you don’t have to play it cool.
It’s also easy to feel isolated after or during a divorce, especially if none of your friends’ parents are divorced. If you’re feeling lonely, reach out: someone else, even just listening, can help you feel less alone.
Divorce often comes with a whole lot of logistical issues for the family. Instead of working together on everything, it might be that now each parent is making their own decisions, and that can sometimes be tense. A few common issues:
This one can be really tricky, and all families work it out differently. Don’t forget that you’re allowed your opinions: if you don’t want to change schools, or move, tell your parents, and try to talk it out with them while you all decide together where you’ll live. Hopefully, something can be worked out that’s best for everyone. Try and stay flexible; moving around, switching jobs, or schools, or houses, is hard for everyone.
Sometimes there might be events that you want both parents to attend—or only one parent—and here, too, good communication is important.
And, give it time. Once you’ve worked out a schedule it will take some time to settle into it, to remember when you’re supposed to be where and the like. Adjustment won’t happen overnight, and you’ll learn as you go the pros and cons of your new living situations. If there are more cons than pros, you know what to do: speak up, and work it out with your parents if you can.
Money problems can also be difficult during a divorce, and you might have a lot of questions for your parents about how that’s going to work for you. Once again, speak up and voice your concerns; it might be that your fears aren’t even necessary. Or, it might be that they are, and you will have to adjust to a different lifestyle, but in any case, it’s better to know than just worry about it.
Sometime down the line one or both of your parents might start seeing someone or even get remarried. This also means a lot of changes: new siblings, a different schedule, maybe another move. Hopefully, everyone will get along alright, but if that’s not the case, do your best to be polite. Those old emotions also may come bubbling back up, especially resentment of this new “family,” but if you’ve dealt with it once and you can do it again.
Here are a few pieces of advice for dealing with your parents’ divorce. As always, the most important one is to speak up and speak out, to talk to someone if you need help, and don’t bottle up those feelings or concerns.
Don’t take sides
You probably have a favourite parent, or at least you’d prefer to live with one of them over the other, and that’s okay. Remember, though, that they might be hurting too, and that you shouldn’t try to hurt their feelings by taking sides. At the same time, be honest about your preferences; you don’t want to end up miserable.
Sometimes, one parent may talk badly about the other, or try to get you to “pick”—but don’t let them do that, either. Tell them that’s wrong, and let them know you don’t want to be caught in the middle.
Respect your parents’ space
They might not want to tell you all of the details of what went wrong, or even about how they feel about the other parent’s activities, etc. And that’s okay. They don’t have to tell you, and it doesn’t mean they’re keeping secrets. It might just be too painful.
Also remember that trying to get them back together is probably not such a great idea. Sure, it happens all the time in movies, but, just like you’re not the reason they split up, you probably can’t do anything to get them back together, either.
Respect your own space
Don’t let yourself be pulled in two directions: if you need to be left alone for a little while, just say so. If you’d like to spend more time with one parent, say so. Give yourself time to readjust however you need to, figure out what you do need, and let them know what’s going on in your head; it really helps.
Keep on living
You don’t have to put all of your own problems aside, and feel like you have to deal with your parents while they’re going through a divorce. It can feel like this is a big part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be the biggest: you still have friends, school, extracurricular activities, an entire life that’s still going on. Give it time, and, even if it’s still hard that your parents are divorced, it will get easier in time.