I think my parents are going to get a divorce. What do I do?
Scared and Mad.
Dear Scared and Mad:
Short answer: Nothing.
Long answer: Divorce is never a good thing. Not for the parents. And certainly not for the kids. Although sometimes, when the parents are fighting like a pair of spoiled brats and the kids are getting caught in the middle, then, yeah, things’ll probably get better after they split. But let’s focus on you.
I’m sorry. But there is nothing you can do to prepare for, fix, avoid, prevent, or improve the situation between your parents. You can’t behave better, or get better grades, or help around the house more. (Well, you could, but it won’t help them.) This is their problem, and it, unfortunately and fortunately, has nothing to do with you. Which isn’t to say that you’re not a part of the whole thing.
But things are going to happen the way they’re going to happen. And the sooner you figure out how to make the best of things, the happier you will be. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Try to be flexible. Chances are, you’re going to get bounced around from house to house, school to school, and life to life for a while. Change is never easy. The only thing worse than losing a familiar life is having to make a new one when you’re still upset about losing the old. Give in to it. Accept that things will be different. And give yourself time to settle in and find your way around before you start deciding whether or not you like it. Let your parents know what you need, but try to keep the overall complaining to a minimum for now. This is stressful for them, too. And while you and your siblings should be their first priority, you’re likely to lose a little on the ladder of importance for the time being. Try to be as responsible as you can for what you do have control over – your personal self, your grades, your behaviour. And let everything else slide a little if you have to.
- Find someone to talk to. Whether it’s a teacher, a neighbour, the parent of a good friend, you need an adult to listen and make suggestions. Find someone you trust who’s willing to hear you out and who can make time for you. Sometimes you’re just going to need to vent. Try not to vent on your folks – that won’t go well… Alternatively, write. Write down your complaints, feelings, ideas, and rants. Blog them if you like – it’s private and you won’t have to worry about someone finding a notebook in your room. If you’re reading this, then you know enough about computers to set up a blog at WordPress.com. Keep it private, or at least use fake names for everyone involved to keep you and your siblings safe. And you can say whatever you like without anyone getting hurt.
- DO NOT pick sides. Whatever happened between your parents, they are still both your parents. And nobody has the right to expect you to side with one or the other. If one starts to complain to you about the other, be loud and clear that you don’t want to hear about it. They shouldn’t be venting to you – they have friends for that. And don’t speak to one about the other. If mom asks anything about dad, you either don’t know or don’t want to talk about dad. If dad’s complaining about mom, you don’t want to hear anyone complaining about your mother. Walk away if you have to. You have the right to not be caught in the middle.
- Try to spend time with both parents. As much as you can, try to maintain, even improve, whatever relationship you had with each parent before the breakup. You might find the one you didn’t think you were all that close to a little easier to reach now.
- Try to keep moving forward. It’ll be hard at times not to think back to better days. But that won’t make today any easier. Wrap your mind around what Christmases will be like from now on. How vacations will work. Who’s coming to games and where they’ll sit. When making plans, try to think about how things will work now without thinking about how they used to be.
You’ve joined a huge population of kids whose parents have broken up. There was a time when this would have been the end of the world both for them and you. But, thankfully, attitudes have changed and the stigma around divorce is all but gone. That doesn’t mean your situation will be all sunshine and muffins. But it will be a tad easier for you than it would have been previously. Just remember, that none of this is your fault. No couple ever broke up because of kids. Even the ones who look like they did, basically broke up because they weren’t ready to be parents in the first place – still not the kids’ faults. And if things are truly miserable, start preparing to move on when you can – away to school, a good job, new apartment. Whenever old-enough-to-do-that is, it’ll come a lot faster than you think. Start making a plan. You never know, though. You might even find that your new living arrangements suit you a lot better once mom and dad have figured things out.
Hope that helps,