Your divorce: Coming clean to your teen
Divorce is hard on everyone in the family. Teens can be especially vulnerable at this time — even more so if there are harsh words between parents or allegations of infidelity.
How you treat the subject with them may affect their future relationships. Keep reading for how and what to tell your teens.
When your relationship is ending and divorce seems certain, you know that conversation with your kids will be difficult. Talking to younger children about the end of your marriage is hard enough, but with teenagers in the family the questions they ask are completely different. Knowing how to approach the subject, how much to share with them and what to expect from their reactions can help you make decisions about how and when to talk to them.
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How much to spill
While it may be tempting to share more adult-type details with your teenagers since they are older, this may not be the best idea. Lesli Doares, licensed marriage and family therapist and author, says, “It is tempting to tell your teenage children more about your divorce than is either wise or necessary. They may have a better understanding of the concept and what it means, but too much detail is even more burdensome for them than for little ones who can't understand it.” The details behind why your marriage is failing — regardless of whether placing blame on one spouse more than the other — are really better left private.
“If there was cheating or infidelity, teens (and all kids) should be shielded from this information,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, psychotherapist and author. “Some details in a couple's personal lives are not the kids' business.” Explain to your teens that sometimes adults can grow apart or have difficulties maintaining the close relationship they once shared, but that your love for your children is consistent. “It is imperative to be truthful yet sparse in the details as to avoid burdening your kids with unnecessary anxiety, guilt and worry,” Walfish adds.
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What to expect
Teenagers process the details of their parent’s divorce differently than younger children do. Teenagers are naturally beginning the long period of finding their own identity in the world — one that is separate from their parents. When parents announce that they are separating or divorcing, a teen's first reaction might be more self-centered than you would expect. They realize how much the changes will affect them on a daily basis, probably more than younger children understand at first.
“One of the ways they process it differently is that they are more aware of the changes this will bring to their lives,” says Doares. ”Having their lives disrupted at this stage, especially if it involves moving or changing schools, can increase the difficulty they may have adjusting.” It may be difficult for parents to deal with the sometimes self-centered reactions that teenagers will have to impending divorce, but developmentally it is to be expected.
Because teens are forming the foundation for their future relationships, your actions and comments toward your spouse have a greater impact. Be aware of how your reactions may be coloring your teen’s attitude toward romantic relationships. Try and maintain a boundary between the hurt you are feeling and the parent you need to be. Making your teen feel that he has to choose sides with one parent versus the other can be damaging to your relationship moving forward.
By putting some thought into how you will share divorce plans with your teenager, you can help give him a better chance at moving forward and handling the change in a mature manner.