For many people, their parents' divorce marks a turning point in their lives,
whether the divorce happened many years ago or is taking place right now.
About half the marriages in the United States today end in divorce, so plenty of
kids and teens have to go through this. But when it happens to you, you can feel very
alone and unsure of what it all means.
It may seem hard, but it is possible to cope with divorce — and have a good
family life in spite of some changes divorce may bring.
Why Are My Parents Divorcing?
Parents divorce for many reasons. Usually divorce happens when couples feel they
can no longer live together due to fighting and anger, or because the love they had
when they married has changed. Divorce also can be because one parent falls in love
with someone else, and sometimes it's due to a serious problem like drinking,
abuse, or gambling. Sometimes nothing bad happens, but parents just decide to live
Did you know it's really common for teens to think that their parents' divorce
is somehow their fault? Just try to remember that parents' decisions to split up are
to do with issues between them, and not because of something you might have done or
Some kids feel guilty about what happened, or wish they had prevented arguments
by cooperating more within the family, doing better with their behavior, or getting
better grades. But separation and divorce are a result of a couple's problems with
each other, not with their kids. The decisions adults make about divorce are their
If your parents are divorcing, you may experience many feelings. Your emotions
may change a lot, too. You may feel stressed out, angry, frustrated, or sad. You might
feel protective of one parent or blame one for the situation. You may feel abandoned,
afraid, worried, or guilty. You also may feel relieved, especially if there has been
a lot of tension or fighting at home. These feelings are very typical and talking
about them with a friend, family member, or trusted adult can really help.
How Will Divorce Change My Life?
Depending on what happens in your family, you might have to adjust to many changes.
These could include things like moving,
changing schools, spending time with both parents separately, and perhaps dealing
with parents' unpleasant feelings about one another.
Your parents may go to court to determine custody arrangements. You could end up
living with one parent most of the time and visiting the other, or your parents may
split their time with you evenly. At the beginning, it means you might have to be
flexible and might have more hassles to deal with for a while.
Some teens have to travel between parents, and that can create challenges both
socially and practically. Over time you can figure out a new routine that works
for all of you. Often, it takes a while for custody arrangements to be finalized.
This can give people time to adapt to these big changes and let families figure out
what works best.
Money matters may change for your parents, too. A parent who didn't work during
the marriage may need to find a job to pay for rent or a mortgage. This might be something
a parent is excited about, but he or she may also feel nervous or pressured about
finances. There are also expenses associated with divorce, from lawyers' fees to the
cost of moving to a new place to live.
Your family may not be able to afford all the things you were used to before the
divorce. This is one of the difficult changes often associated with divorce. There
can be good changes too — but how you cope with the stressful changes depends
on your situation, your personality, and your support network.
What Parents and Teens Can Do to Make It Easier
Keep the peace. Dealing with divorce is easiest when parents get
along. Teens find it especially hard when their parents fight and argue or act with
bitterness toward each other. You can't do much to influence how your parents behave
during a divorce, but you can ask them to do their best to call a truce to any bickering
or unkind things they might be saying about each other.
No matter what problems a couple may face, as parents they need to handle visiting
arrangements peacefully to minimize the stress their kids may feel. Letting your parents
know that even though you know everyone is super-stressed, you don’t want to
get caught in the middle.
Be fair. Most teens say it's important that parents don't try
to get them to "take sides." You need to feel free to hang out with and talk to each
of your parents without the other parent acting jealous, hurt, or mad. It's unfair
for anyone to feel that talking to one parent is being disloyal to the other or that
the burden of one parent's happiness is on your shoulders.
When parents find it hard to let go of bitterness or anger, or if they are depressed
about the changes brought on by divorce, they can find help from a counselor or therapist.
This can help parents get past the pain divorce may have created, to find personal
happiness, and to lift any burdens from their kids.
Kids and teens also can benefit from seeing a family therapist or someone who specializes
in helping them get through the stress of a family breakup. It might feel weird at
first to talk to someone you don't know about personal feelings, but it can be really
helpful to hear about how other teens in your situation have coped.
Keep in touch. Going back and forth between two homes can be tough,
especially if parents live far apart. It can be a good idea to keep in touch with
a parent you see less often because of distance. Even a quick email saying "I'm thinking
of you" helps ease the feelings of missing each other. Making an effort to stay in
touch when you're apart can keep both of you up to date on everyday activities and
Work it out. You may want both parents to come to special events,
like games, meets, plays, or recitals. But sometimes a parent may find it awkward
to attend if the other is present. It helps if parents can figure out a way to make
this work, especially because you may need to feel the support and presence of both
parents even more during divorce. You might be able to come up with an idea for a
compromise or solution to this problem and suggest it to both parents.
Talk about the future. Many teens whose parents divorce worry
that their own plans for the future could be affected. Some are concerned that the
costs of divorce (like legal fees and expenses of two households) might mean there
will be less money for college or other things.
Pick a good time to tell your parents about your concerns — when there's
enough time to sit down with one or both parents to discuss how the divorce will affect
you. Don't worry about putting added stress on your parents, just try to pick a good
time to talk when everyone is feeling calm. It's better to bring your concerns into
the open than to keep them to yourself and let worries or resentment build. There
are solutions for most problems and advisors and counselors who can help teens and
their parents find those solutions.
Figure out your strengths. How do you deal with stress? Do you
get angry and take it out on siblings, friends, or yourself? Or are you someone who
is a more of a pleaser who puts others first? Do you tend to avoid conflict altogether
and just hope that problems will magically disappear?
A life-changing event like a divorce can put people through some tough times, but
it can also help them learn about their strengths, and put in place some new coping
skills. For example, how can you cope if one parent bad-mouths another? Sometimes
staying quiet until the anger has subsided and then discussing it calmly with your
mom or dad can help. You may want to tell them you have a right to love both your
parents, no matter what they are doing to each other.
If you need help figuring out your strengths or how to cope — like from a
favorite aunt or from your school counselor — ask for it! And if you find it
hard to confront your parents, try writing them a letter. Figure out what works for
Live your life. Sometimes during a divorce, parents may be so
caught up in their own changes it can feel like your own life is on hold. In addition
to staying focused on your own plans and dreams, make sure you participate in as many
of your normal activities as possible. When things are changing at home, it can really
help to keep some things, such as school activities and friends, the same.
If things get too hard at home, see if you can stay with a friend or relative until
things calm down. Take care of yourself by eating right and getting regular exercise
— two great stress busters! Figure out what's important to you — spending
time with friends, working hard at school, writing or drawing, or being great at basketball.
Finding your inner strength and focusing on your own goals can really help your stress
Let others support you. Talk about your feelings and reactions
to the divorce with someone you trust. If you're feeling down or upset, let your friends
and family members support you. These feelings usually pass. If they don't, and if
you're feeling depressed or stressed out, or if it's hard to concentrate on your normal
activities, let a counselor or therapist help you. Your parents, school counselor,
or a doctor or other health professional can help you find one.
Many communities and schools have support groups for kids and teens whose parents
have divorced. It can really help to talk with other people your age who are going
through similar experiences.
Bringing Out the Positive
There will be ups and downs in the process, but teens can cope successfully with
their parents' divorce and the changes it brings. You might even discover some unexpected
positives. Many teens find their parents are actually happier after the divorce or
they may develop new and better ways of relating to both parents when they have separate
time with each one.
Some teens learn compassion and caring skills when a younger brother or sister
needs their support and care. Siblings who are closer in age may form tighter bonds,
learning to count on each other more because they're facing the challenges of their
parents' divorce together.
Coping well with divorce also can bring out strength and maturity. Some become
more responsible, better problem solvers, better listeners, or better friends. Looking
back on the experience, lots of people say that they learned coping skills they
never knew they had and feel stronger and more resilient as a result of what they
Many movies have been made about divorce and stepfamilies
— some with happy endings, some not. That's how it is in real life too. But
most teens who go through a divorce learn (sometimes to their surprise) that they
can make it through this difficult situation successfully.
Giving it time, letting others support you along the way, and keeping an eye on
the good things in your life can make all the difference.