When Parents' Divorce
Grace paced impatiently at the entrance to the movie theater.
It was not like Felicia to be late. Grace was about to find
a phone when she saw her friend approaching.
Then Grace noticed the tears. "What's wrong?" she
asked, concerned. "My parents," Felicia said, struggling
to get the words out. "They're getting a divorce."
For Better or Worse
Felicia is not alone in her experience. Government figures
show that approximately half of all marriages in the U.S.
end in divorce. Sometimes a serious problem, such as domestic
abuse or alcoholism, is a factor. However, most couples cite
the cause of their divorce as irreconcilable differences.
This legal phrase means that two people can no longer get
along with each other. Sometimes, one parent may have changed
in some way, and the other finds it tough to adapt. In other
cases, the couple just drifts apart. Whatever the cause, parents
divorcing is no laughing matter. It doesn't have to be a crying
matter either, as Felicia would soon learn.
Contrary to what she and most teens believe, divorce is not
the end of all happiness. If handled properly, the breakup
can be the start of new, healthier-than-ever relationships
among family members.
Talk, Don't Act
The first thing any teen in Felicia's situation needs to
do is to talk to someone about his or her feelings. A family
breakup stirs up a lot of confusing emotions. It's normal
to feel angry one minute, sad the next. It is normal to feel
protective of a parent while also feeling anger toward him
That is why teens of divorcing parents need a good listener.
Close friends can be a source of comfort, but in this situation
an adult is best. It can be a counselor, but it doesn't have
to be. It can be a coach, teacher, clergy member, or relative
who can help. One thing that does not help at a time like
this is acting out on feelings. Some teens respond to news
of a breakup by doing something harmful. They react to their
pain by turning to drugs or alcohol. Doing either is a big
mistake. This only complicates the situation.
A divorce or separation feels a lot like losing a parent.
It certainly impacts a teen's life in big ways. Teens are
required to make different adjustments in their daily lives.
Among the possibilities are:
- Moving. It can be confusing at a time when life
seems on the rocks and a person has to leave a familiar
home. The new experiences can be overwhelming.
- Spending time with parents on a separate basis.
It's tough to deal with each parent as individuals with
different homes and lives. If the split was accompanied
by bitter feelings, the situation can be even worse.
- Money problems. Two separate homes, cars, and other
essentials of life are more expensive than one of each.
This may mean that one or both parents have to "tighten
their belts" a little to make ends meet. So do their
Dealing with Divorce
This all may sound grim. However, there are things that can
be donenot only for the sake of the teen, but for divorcing
parents. This will make the transitional period a little easier
- Keep the lines of communication open. Sharing feelings
with one or both parents is important. Set aside time to
just sit down and talk. Some parents have no idea that their
children are hurting. Although it's hard for a child to
see parents unhappy, it's even harder for parents to know
their teen has bottled up feelings so they are not a burden.
- Turn to others for support. This doesn't mean a
teen should run from the situation or from his or her reaction
to it. Just the opposite. The emotional seas can get pretty
stormy during a breakup. Looking for a "safe harbor"
is a good strategy. This could be a friend who's going through
the same thing. Some find it helpful to talk to someone
who's been through it. Other teens can have surprising perspectives
and helpful suggestions.
Just the Facts
- Why is it important for a teen whose parents are divorcing
to find someone responsible to talk to?
- What are some of the adjustments teens need to make when
going through a parental separation?
- What are some strategies for coping?
Beyond the Facts
- The article notes that breakups, if handled properly,
"can be the start of new, healthier-than-ever relationship
among family members." In what way do you think this
is so? Explain.
Applying the Facts
Consider the importance of getting help from trusted adults
when faced with a situation as serious as parents' divorce.
Find out what resources are available in your area that can
help teens dealing with this issue. Make a resource list for
the class. A good place to start is with the school counselor's
office, or check local community resources.