When your family is coping with divorce, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Teens and older children often deal with a variety of thoughts and feelings that range from anger and betrayal to disappointment and sadness.
“Teens and older children need to hear the truth about their parents’ feelings in their divorce, and it’s tricky, as parents need to disclose these feelings without being overly insulting to the other parent,” says Dr. John Duffy, Chicago-based psychotherapist and author of “The Available Parent.”
Learning to acknowledge and validate your older child’s feelings will pave the way for a stronger relationship between you and your child.
Be Frank but Hopeful
Since your child is older, he is likely much more in tune with the implications of divorce. He knows that family life and daily routines will be altered. These are changes he will need to discuss openly and honest with both parents to allay any concerns or anxiety about his future. “Teenagers tend to relate strongly to both of their parents,” says Duffy. “So, parents need to be frank, while at the same time hopeful. The more hopeful a divorced parent is about his or her own future, the more optimistic the kids are about their own.”
Even though open communication is key when your teens have concerns about your divorce, as parents, it helps to listen, too. “Give your teenagers the freedom to say anything they feel directly to you,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent." “This is not an invitation to disrespect you, but rather opening pathways to honest communication.”
Walfish suggests letting your children express anger, hurt and disappointment and resist the urge to explain, rationalize or defend your actions. “Talking is the glue that holds relationships together,” says Walfish. Allowing your child the freedom to express herself will validate that her feelings matter to you.
Keep Your Pain at Bay
Discussing divorce with an older child should be focused on her pain and concerns instead of yours. “Do not share your own hurt – this is not about you,” says Walfish. Ask your daughter how she feels about the family changes and listen intently so that she feels heard and appreciated. A teenager is typically mature enough to understand divorce and needs to feel like her feelings are valued.
Acknowledge, validate and accept your older child’s feelings, suggests Walfish. “She will feel better about herself and closer to you in the process when you tell her you get it,” she says. “You’d feel exactly the same way if you were in her skin.”
It’s also important to remind an older child that a husband and wife separate and divorce but a parent never divorces or leaves their children. Reinforce that you are, and will remain, forever her father or mother, says Walfish. “Declare your loyalty and devotion and demonstrate it,” she says. “She will love and appreciate you.”