What can I say about parents divorcing that you don’t already know from personal experience or what you’ve observed? Probably nothing. For the couple involved, divorce is one of life’s major upheavals (second only to Death of a Spouse). The whole family feels the impact of divorce and its aftershocks, but adults and kids process it differently.
Young children are very egocentric. As long as their moment-to-moment needs continue to be met, they’re less aware of what’s going on in the family. They’re also not skilled at “covering up.” If they feel tension between Mom and Dad, they will let behave in ways that let everyone know “I’m not happy!” Parents will respond, as best as they can, by comforting the children and/or distracting them. It usually works pretty well.
Teens, on the other hand, are often more distressed by divorce than their younger siblings, and more likely to mask their emotions. Without letting on what’s going on, Mom and Dad might assume their teens are “OK” when they are far from it. Why do teens hide their feelings? Because they don’t:
a) know how to express the intensity of their emotions (ager, sadness, confusion, guilt, fear, etc.)
b) want to add to their parents’ problems
c) want to get yelled at
d) want to choose sides
e) want to show that they’re not “mature enough” to handle what’s going on
f) all of the above
On this week’s Family Confidential video podcast, I talk with Wendy Young, child and adolescent therapist and founder of Kidlutions. We discuss pragmatic parenting tips for helping kids of all ages navigate the emotional challenges of divorce. – Listen here