Navigating a divorce is never easy. Whether things ended amicably or not, there is still a grieving process to deal with, on top of everything from court proceedings to the possibility of moving.
However, you’re not the only one impacted by your divorce if you have teenagers.
While teens might be able to understand the details of divorce better than young children, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier for them to handle the situation. In some ways, it can be even more damaging to their well-being.
So, what can you do to support your teenager’s mental and physical health during your divorce? How can you be a strong support system when you’re already going through so much?
Set Boundaries and Maintain Consistency
Every teen is different and you know yours better than anyone. However, it’s not uncommon for teenage behaviors and actions to change during and after a divorce. It might be their way of coping, or “acting out” in response to what they’re going through. Some of the most common effects include
- Risky behaviors
- Academic struggles
- Behavioral issues
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble getting along with people
Whether you’re starting to notice those effects in your teen or not, your rules should remain the same to help them adjust. Maintain a daily routine to provide comfort and security. Set healthy boundaries for them, no matter how much they might try to defy them at first. Most importantly, maintain consistency in their lives. They might feel like everything is changing at once, and knowing they have a safe place to go and someone to turn to will make a big difference.
Keep a Routine With Your Ex
Teenagers often have a voice when it comes to where they want to live, but if they’re on the younger side, they might not be able to choose. If you and your former spouse have joint custody, it can be hard for your teen to have to travel back and forth from house to house.
One of the best ways to make that transition easier on them is to keep a similar routine at both homes. It can be hard for kids to adjust to moving at any age, and a routine provides a sense of familiarity that they need.
It’s also a good idea to work with your ex to have similar rules in each household. You might not always see eye-to-eye on things, and that’s okay. However, whatever you can agree on will make things much easier for your teen.
Finally, validate your teen’s feelings about moving. Sit down with your ex and your teenager, and listen to what they have to say. It might be hurtful to one parent to know their teen wants to stay in one household most of the time, but doing what’s best for them should be your top priority. If moving means they’ll have to change schools, give up extracurricular activities, or be away from their friends, it might not be the best option right now. You and your former spouse should both take that into consideration when you’re discussing custody and visitation arrangements.
Provide Open Communication
There are plenty of stereotypes surrounding teens and their unwillingness to communicate. Unfortunately, there’s some truth to those issues. During a divorce, your teen might even want to shut themselves out further.
It’s essential to communicate as often as possible. Doing so will let your teen know they aren’t alone in this experience. Even if they start to rebel, there are certain strategies you should keep in mind to encourage healthy communication, including
- Remaining calm
- Validating their feelings
- Using “I” statements
- Being respectful
- Offering praise
- Being observant
Focus on the good behavior, not just the “bad” things your teen might be doing. Set rules and expectations, and follow through with consequences. You might get the classic “that’s not fair” speech. However, setting rules and giving consequences are both ways that you’re showing your teen you care about them, even if they don’t understand that right now. You’re setting them up to be stronger and more resilient while having the knowledge that they’re not alone.
Try to keep the focus on your teen when you’re talking about the divorce. If they have questions, answer them honestly. However, they don’t need to know the details of what happened if you don’t think it’s appropriate. It’s okay to express how the situation made/makes you feel, but your teen doesn’t need extra guilt or worry, and they shouldn’t feel like they need to take care of you on top of everything else.
Providing a listening ear will strengthen your bond with your teenager, especially when it feels like everything else is falling apart. Remember that you’re both going through a loss, and it’s okay to handle things differently as long as you both remember you have a built-in support system and a lot of love.