Jun 3, 2021
Handling Teens and Young Adults During and After Divorce.
Christine Lombardo-Zaun Esq., Attorney-Mediator at Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation discusses.
This article is about handling children during and after the divorce. The “children” I refer to are the teens from 13 years all the way up to about 21 years of age. I have seen a lot of parents deal with this. First note that divorce is hard on any child of any age, but teenagers are unique and they are going through a lot of additional change on their own. Adding a divorce into the mix is really just like adding gas to a fire, so what can you do if you are a parent going through a divorce and you have teenagers?
I have learned a few things from some of the therapists that we use at Alpha or from our therapist partners and I hope to share some of the tips that I think have been very helpful as I share that that guidance with my current clientele as they are going through the process.
Tip #1: Be present.
I think the biggest thing we can do for our kids one is to be there and that does not just mean be there physically, but to be there emotionally. Some of you might be dealing with the custody arrangement where you know you are not going see the children every day and especially with teenagers who might not want to see you anyway every day. This age group will naturally want to be with their friends, or they might have to work, or they might have extracurricular activities taking up their extra time after school. Being present really means like not being distracted by anything else and your child will notice your attentiveness, even if the time spent with each other is shorter than normal.
Tip #2: Be flexible.
I have witnessed some parents who revolve the custody schedule around them, and sometimes they have to if there are job demands. However, if you can, you should try to be there when it is good for them. Yes, that means you might have to rearrange your schedule at the last minute if they call you and say hey do you want to go grab a bite to eat. YES! Drop everything and go for the meal! (Add in Tip #1 while at dinner).
Tip #3: Listen!
The statistics are very clear that when we are communicating with someone, we only hear 25% of what is being said and so imagine you know if a child is talking to you and you are only hearing 25% of what they are saying.
They do pick up on this by the way. You want to be what is referred to as an active listener. How do you do this? Show your child that you actually hear what they are saying. One of the easiest ways to do that is to kind of repeat what they are saying by paraphrasing or putting it into your own words. “I see that you’re really frustrated about that homework assignments and that you do not think you are going to get a good grade”. Let them talk, let them vent, and let them steer the ship and direct the conversation.
Tip #4: Keep it about them and not the other parent.
I know I wrote this in other blogs, but you do not want to talk about the other spouse and the time with your child should be about you and them. This is the time to ask them questions to get them to talk about their life. I had a client who had a child who said to her, “I just want my mom back”. The mother asked what that meant to the child and she replied, “…just talking about day-to-day stuff.” The child did not want to discuss divorce or even think about it. She wanted to talk about her life and what was happening for her.
Tip #5: Stop defending yourself! (and do not fight with your teen!)
Teens are forming their own identity during these years. Yes, they are going to challenge you like any normal teenager. They are going to push your buttons and the best thing to do is not respond aggressively. Try to diffuse a tense situation and by saying, “You are right”, or “I understand how you are feeling and, although I do not agree with it, I understand how you feel.”
The worst thing you can do is engage or fight back. You might feel as if you have to justify your actions and explain yourself because you want your side to be heard. This is a hard lesson to learn but it is important. Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Many of us are hardwired to defend ourselves because they feel like they are constantly having to defend their actions thanks to societal norms, but if you realize that you do not have to defend yourself to anyone it might take a little pressure off of you and you can just condition your child by saying, “I do not have to explain myself. I am the parent and you do not have to like what I am doing. What matters is that I love you and I am here for you.”
When you start listening to your children and start really paying attention to what is going on in their life it is pretty amazing to see how much they are accomplishing especially while living through a pandemic like environment.
I hope some of these tips help. Divorce is hectic and stressful on everybody but I think it is important to note that as the parent and as the adult your job is to guide them. Children are very receptive and so if you do lead by example and you do the things noted above you might actually end up having a much more quality relationship than you ever thought you had.