What Does it All Mean?
Understanding the separation or divorce of your parents can be really challenging. At times, it might feel like you’re trying to find your way out of a forest, but despite your best efforts, you keep winding up right where you started. This experience can leave you feeling lost, overwhelmed, frustrated, uncertain, and anxious.
Even just figuring out what the words separation and divorce mean can be really confusing. So, let’s take a look at the definitions of each, to clear up your understanding.
- Separation: Two people are not sure if they want to be married anymore. So, they live in different homes and spend time apart. This gives both people time to think about how they want to move forward with their marriage. A separation can lead to a divorce, but not always.
- Divorce: Two people who are married decide that they want to end the marriage. Because marriage is a legal agreement, they have to file legal paperwork to end it. Lawyers and/or judges may be involved, depending on the situation. A married couple may separate for a few weeks, months, or even years before the divorce is completed.
If you’re struggling because of all the changes you’re dealing with right now, keep in mind that you will get through this, and you are not alone. And that it’s always okay to seek help and talk about your feelings. With a bit of support and some healthy coping strategies in place, you can come out of the forest as a stronger, wiser, and more mature person!
Why Are My Parents Splitting Up?
The number of married couples who get a divorce in the United States is going down. But that doesn’t mean it’s weird or unusual for people to separate or get a divorce.
Married couples may decide to split up for lots of different reasons. For example, some parents split up because:
- They grow apart.
- They can’t seem to agree on important things, like how to spend money.
- They argue a lot.
- Their romantic feelings toward one another have changed.
- A parent is abusing the other parent or a child in the home.
- A parent is struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- They had a big fight over something and couldn’t fix the problem.
- They don’t share the same interests anymore (like hobbies, how they like to spend their free time, etc.).
There are also many more reasons why parents might divorce, but they might be too complicated for anyone except the parents to really understand. No matter what the reason is, though, please understand that you are NOT the cause of the separation or divorce. It is in no way your fault. You are not to blame, and there is nothing you could have done to change the situation between your parents.
What Are Some Changes That I May Go Through?
The separation or divorce of your parents can often cause you to experience some difficult and stressful changes. For example, you may have to adjust to:
- A new home.
- A new school.
- Not being able to see your friends as often.
- How much money you get from your parents (e.g., allowance, lunch money, money for clothes shopping, etc.).
- The new chores and responsibilities you need to take on around the house.
- The way you communicate with each parent.
- How often you see each parent and other family members.
- Your daily routine.
If you feel safe doing so, you can talk to your parents about how you’re feeling and any questions that you may have. You may find it helpful to write a letter to them or to write down what you want to say ahead of time, if you’re worried that the words won’t come out right during the conversation.
But if you’d rather not speak directly to your parents, there are other people you can reach out to for support. You may want to speak with a mental health professional, like your school counselor, psychologist, or social worker. You could also chat with a close family member, like a grandparent or cousin, or a trusted friend.
How Can I Expect to Feel?
Following the separation or divorce of your parents, you might feel:
- Angry at your parents or at the situation.
- Sad that things are changing.
- Guilty, because you think the separation or divorce is your fault (It’s not!).
- Ashamed, because you worry that other people might judge you and your parents (there’s nothing to be ashamed of!).
- Anxious,becauseyou don’t have control over what’s going to happen next.
- Confused, because you don’t understand why this is happening.
- Disappointed that your parents couldn’t work things out.
- Jealous, because one or both of your parents have a new partner who is getting a lot of the attention that used to be given to you.
- Shocked, if you didn’t see the split coming.
- Stressed about how the separation or divorce might change your day-to-day life.
- Frustrated over having to keep track of your new schedule (for example, which parent’s house you will be going to, after school).
- Relieved, because you don’t have to deal with your parents constantly fighting with each other at home anymore.
- Happy for your parents, because you think splitting up might be good for them.
It’s natural to have a lot of different feelings about the situation that change over time. For example, you may feel relieved at first, then feel really angry and sad for a while, then happy, then sad again. And these feelings may come and go for weeks, months, or years. It’s also normal to be curious about how things may change (or continue to change) for you.
No two people react in the same way to their parents splitting up. So, it’s important to know that whatever you’re feeling is valid!
How Can I Start to Cope with My Parents’ Divorce or Separation?
Even if your parents have been split up for years, that doesn’t always make dealing with the situation any easier. Regardless of the amount of time that has passed since the split, it’s common to feel super stressed and unsure of how to navigate big changes that keep popping up. For this reason, it’s important to use healthy coping strategies, regularly, which keep you healthy and your stress levels manageable.
For example, you may want to:
- Listen to music.
- Get outside and shoot some hoops or kick around a soccer ball.
- Do some yoga.
- Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep, each night.
- Write about how you’re feeling in a journal.
- Play with a pet.
- Distract yourself with creative hobbies, like writing poetry, drawing, or dancing.
- Laugh with friends.
- Talk to family members you trust, like a sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, or grandparent.
Remember, it’s not your job to fix your parents’ relationship. It’s their responsibility to figure out their relationship’s future, not yours.
While some teens may try to change their behaviors, in an attempt to bring their parents closer together (either by being on their best behavior or by acting out), this doesn’t solve the problem. The best way forward is to care for yourself and make good decisions that help you to heal and be the best version of yourself.
Who Can I Turn to For Support?
If you’re having a really hard time adjusting to the separation or divorce of your parents, and it’s causing problems in your daily life, reach out to a trusted adult for help. The person you chat with may be able to help you to process what you’re going through. They may even offer to connect you with helpful resources. These could include support groups or after-school programs for teens who are having problems at home or mental health professionals who have a lot of experience working with children of divorced or separated parents.
It might not seem like it now, but with the right coping strategies and supports in place, things will get better. Keep believing in your ability to deal successfully with the separation or divorce of your parents and remind yourself that you have a bright future ahead of you.
Eventually, life will start to make sense again, you’ll settle into new routines, and you’ll begin to build (or re-build) strong relationships with the people around you. Do your best to focus on your own wellbeing and on asking for help when you need it. In time, the way out of the forest will become clearer!
2Houses. (2021, July 5). My parents are divorcing. How do I cope? https://www.2houses.com/en/blog/my-parents-are-divorcing-how-do-i-cope
Kids Helpline. (2023). When parents separate or divorce. https://kidshelpline.com.au/teens/issues/when-parents-separate-or-divorce
Luscombe, B. (2018, November 26). The divorce rate is dropping. That may not actually be good news. Time. https://time.com/5434949/divorce-rate-children-marriage-benefits/
SafeTeens. (n.d.). Dealing with divorce. https://safeteens.org/relationships/dealing-with-divorce/
Wang, W. (2020, November 10). The U.S. divorce rate has hit a 50-year low. Institute for Family Studies. https://ifstudies.org/blog/the-us-divorce-rate-has-hit-a-50-year-low