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When Parents Divorce: Teen Version

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KEY POINTS

  • When your parents are getting a divorce, it’s a big change in your life. You’ll be dealing with a lot of emotions, as well as changes in your home, finances, and relationships.
  • Try to remember that your parents didn’t divorce you. They divorced each other because of problems in their relationship. It’s not your fault.
  • Make time for exercise, rest, staying in touch with friends, and going out and having fun. Find ways to deal with stress. You may want to talk to a counselor or to your healthcare provider.

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What are normal emotions after the divorce?

Your parents are getting a divorce. Whether this is expected or unexpected, it’s a big change in your life. It is common and normal for you to feel:

  • Angry. You may be angry at one or both of your parents, or you may just feel angry all the time.
  • Anxious. You may worry about how this will affect your future and who is going to take care of you. You may worry that one of your parents may be completely out of your life. You may wonder if any relationship can last.
  • Shocked. If your parents weren’t fighting a lot, the divorce may be a big surprise.
  • Embarrassed. You may not want anyone to know what’s happening in your family.
  • Guilty. You may feel like the divorce is your fault. It’s not. Parents divorce each other because of problems in their relationship.
  • Helpless. You may feel like your life is out of control. You may not know who or what you can count on. You may feel confused and not know what to say or do.
  • Lonely. You may not feel like hanging out with your friends. The changes from the divorce may always be on your mind, and you may have trouble focusing on anything. You may not think anyone understands what you’re going through. Almost half of the marriages in the US end in divorce. Some of your friends will understand.
  • Sad. You may have a sense of loss of relationships, your home, and your sense of safety. You may feel abandoned. You may feel like nothing will be normal again.
  • Relieved. If your parents fought a lot, you may be glad that the fighting and stress are over.

How will divorce affect me?

For many months after the divorce, you’ll be adjusting to a different reality. You might have to take on new tasks, do things differently, or give up some activities. For example:

  • Usually one parent moves out and finds another place to live. You will probably spend time with one parent at a time. You may be living full-time with one parent, or you may be going back and forth between both of your parents’ homes.
  • You might have to move away from your family home to a new home. This might mean moving to a new area and changing schools.
  • Your parents might have less money than before, because it costs more to run 2 homes. You might not be able to buy a lot of new things, go out as often, or do other things that you used to do. If finances are really strained, you may feel like you have to help put food on the table or pay rent.
  • You might need to help out around the house more than before. This might be because there is only 1 adult to do the work that 2 adults used to do. Or it could be because your parent has to work more than before to earn more money.
  • Your parents might seem sad, angry, or distracted. Or they might be happier now that they aren't together anymore. They might start changing, such as developing new interests, seeing new friends, or dating. You might get to know your parents better and have better relationships with them. They might actually be more fun to be with.
  • Siblings who feel anxious, confused, and angry may take it out on each other. Support and reassure your brothers and sisters as your family goes through changes. Try to keep some normal family routines.

What can I do to deal with the divorce?

Your parents are trying to deal with the changes in their lives as well as in your family’s life. They may not be as focused on your needs as they were before. Learn how to express your feelings to your parents clearly and without judgement. This helps them and it helps you. They didn’t divorce you, and they’re still responsible for taking care of you. If there are things you need, ask. If you are concerned about something, speak up. If you are worried that their divorce might ruin your future, let them know about it. For example:

  • Don’t take sides. Sometimes your parents may complain about each other or want you to take messages back and forth. If this happens, it’s okay to tell your parents that you are not going to choose between them or take sides. You need to be able to spend time with either parent without the other getting angry or jealous. You have the right to expect your parents to work together on things that affect you, like visits, school, holidays, and other things that are important to you.
  • Work things out. Sometimes parents feel awkward going to events when the other parent is there. However, if you’re in a play or have a big game, you may want both parents there. You could suggest that your dad come for one half and your mom come for the other half. Or suggest that they both attend but sit in different places.
  • Stay in touch. If you have to go back and forth between both of your parent’s homes, text, email, or use social media to keep the other parent in the loop. You’re still an important part of both of your parents’ lives, and they want to know what’s going on with you.
  • Live your life. Sometimes a divorce can make you feel like you have to deal with your parents’ problems. Don’t put your life on hold to try to take care of them. Make time for exercise, rest, staying in touch with friends, and going out and having fun. If things at home are stressing you, get support. Talk with family and friends. Just talking problems through will often make you feel better. You may want to see if you can stay with a friend or relative for a while.
  • Don’t let your parents’ problems make you doubt relationships in general. You are your own person. You have your own strengths and skills, and you can learn from your parents’ mistakes.
  • Find ways to deal with stress. Some teens may turn to drugs, alcohol, or other risky behaviors. It’s healthier to write in a journal, listen to music, play sports, read, draw, or talk to friends. If these ways of dealing with stress aren’t helping, you may want to talk to a counselor or to your healthcare provider.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2016-09-21
Last reviewed: 2016-08-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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