Many people presume that it is more difficult for younger children when their parents get divorced. This is not my experience either personally, or professionally. In my opinion, it is much more painful and complicated for older children and young adults.
Younger children tend to be sheltered from the emotional upset of their parents’ separation and hopefully as much as possible are protected from the “fall-out”. Young children are very resilient and if the situation is dealt with in the correct way, are often able to adapt very well to changes in their lives. If their parents divorced when they were very young, as young adults they may not have much memory of how life was when Mum and Dad lived in the same house. They don’t know any different to how life is now.
This can be very different for older children. They have had their family life a certain way for a long time and have always seen their parents as a united force. When this changes it can be very confusing and unsettling. Perhaps they have suddenly had to move from a home they have grown up in for 15/20yrs. Or change schools at a crucial time in their education. This can be very disruptive for them.
Teenagers and young adults are expected to grow up very quickly when their parents get divorced.
They are expected to cope with the significant changes in their lives and perhaps even provide emotional support to one or both of their parents. For older children, they are much more aware of what is going on around them and understand a lot more of the relationship dynamic between their parents, as well as what is going on in the divorce.
When the parents are struggling to cope emotionally with the breakdown of the marriage, they often lean on the older children to support them.
This is totally inappropriate. However old the child, they are still the child in the family and they should not become involved in the disputes between their parents. It isn’t fair. I advise my clients not to use their children as an emotional crutch. It is not necessary to give them a blow by blow account of how the marriage came to an end and/or a detailed analysis of how difficult their other parent is being during the divorce process.
How parents decide to behave during their divorce could have a significant impact on how their children may view their own relationships and marriage in adulthood. As a parent its a good idea to think about how your children may describe your divorce to someone if they were asked about it in 10 years’ time. Would you feel comfortable with they way they described how you behaved towards them and your ex?For advice for divorcing parents of teenagers and young adult children, see my blog Divorce Is Tough On Teens.
Advice for teens and older children:
Don’t take responsibility
Be very careful not to take on responsibility for looking after either of the parents during the divorce. It can be difficult to see a parent suffering. Often there is a role reversal, where the child takes the adult/parent role to look after their parent (who has taken the child role).
Make sure you get support
You are going through a very challenging time in your life and the people you would normally turn to for support are the ones who need support themselves. Make sure you have someone to talk things through with. Perhaps a teacher/lecturer you particularly like, or an aunt/uncle you are close to. Alternatively, there are counselling services who specialise in supporting young people who are coping with their parents’ divorce. Don’t struggle alone. Get the right help from the right people.
Be careful about what you might hear
Be careful about listening to stories from your friends about their parents’ divorce. Everyone’s experience is different. No one is walking in your shoes. You will have your own divorce journey with emotional and practical issues to navigate.
Be careful about being an emotional crutch
Is one or both of your parents using you as an emotional crutch? It is important to tell your parent that you love them very much but they perhaps you are not the best person for them to talk to about these things as you are not able to help them. Suggest they seek the ear of a trusted friend, or hire the professional services of a divorce coach or counsellor. This will take the pressure off you, whilst you still feeling confident that you have helped your struggling parent. This is also the case if your parent insists on bad mouthing your other parent to you.
You have a choice about your relationship with each parent
As a young adult, it is your choice what relationship you decide to have with each of your parents once they are no longer together. Your relationship does not need to change but likewise, you may find it difficult to see one/both of your parents in the same light, depending on the circumstances of the breakdown of the marriage and how they deal with the divorce. You may benefit from some space from the parent who is being blamed for the divorce. You will need time to process your own feelings about what has happened and decide for yourself how you wish to deal with things moving forward.
Be honest with how you feel
It’s important for you to feel you can be honest with your parents about how you feel and communicate what you need from them. For example: “I need some space from Dad for a while, to give me time to process him being in a new relationship.” When parents force their children to have a relationship with them on their terms, rather than in accordance with the children’s wishes, this can have a negative effect on the future relationship between the young person and that parent.
You are entitled to your own opinions, thoughts and feelings.
When you feel one of your parents was to blame for the breakdown of the family, take your time to rebuild your relationship with them and on your terms. Don’t rush it or be put under pressure to spend more time with them than you feel comfortable with.
How Can You Help Your Parents?
It is not appropriate for the child of the family to feel the need to give emotional support to their parent. But what can be helpful for both the child and the parent, is practical help. The young person could think of practical ways in which they may be able to help their parent/s. Perhaps offering to do the shopping or helping around the house etc.
If you have found the tips in this blog useful then you will find lots more in my ebook “Tips for Coping with Divorce” which you can download here: free ebook.
By signing up you will also receive my monthly newsletter with more free advice on different aspects of divorce.