Leaving a relationship when you have children can be one of the most difficult decisions to make. Although we realise we might be in unhealthy relationships, we often stay longer than we should particularly when children are involved. We might think we’re doing the best by them if we stay but in fact, we expose children to unhealthy traits that could manifest in their own relationships later in life.
Divorce and separation can be extremely unsettling for children and they’re likely to experience sadness, anger and resentment towards you and your ex. These feelings are common in children of all ages though there are certain feelings that children might have at particular ages.
What are the common characteristics for teens and how you can help them manage their emotions?
Teenage years are an emotional rollercoaster even without separation or divorce as children work through hormonal changes. Teenagers are likely to be experiencing issues with their identity, their peer groups and how they fit in so keep this in mind if they are rude to you or have emotional outbursts.
While children in the previous age bracket might start to discern ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, teenagers are more likely to express negative feelings about the ‘bad’ parent, even to the point where you start questioning who your child actually is! Given the hormonal changes they’re going through, children might be calm and
even-tempered one day and may act like angry and irrational beings the next day. They might send personal and hurtful attacks your way though you have to remember that life in general can be emotional turmoil for them because of hormonal changes and societal pressures.
How you can help
- Don’t trivialise or minimise how they’re feeling. Quite often we assume that teenagers are just emotional and hormonal creatures. It will exacerbate the situation if they feel you’re not taking them seriously.
- Arrange counselling sessions if need be or ask a trusted family member or friend to have a casual conversation with your child.
- Like other age brackets, get your children involved in extra-curricular activities. It also exposes them to other people which can be helpful if your child has become withdrawn.
Dos and Don’ts
Regardless of their age, there are some cardinal Dos and Don’ts to minimise the impact on children.
• Reassure your children that they’re not responsible for the divorce or separation.
• Refrain from talking badly about your ex and from showing hostile behaviours.
• Refrain from relying on your children for support they need you during this time, not the other way round.
• Try and maintain established routines.
• Build a support network for yourself.
• Never ask your children to take sides.
• Never use your children as bargaining chips to gain power over your ex.
• Don’t make your children feel guilty if they’ve had fun with the other parent.
• Don’t use your children to gather intel about your ex.
• Don’t put your children in a position where they have to defend you or your ex.
If you have the Parenting Workbook you find more information about other age groups and the impact on them on pages 6-8.
Workbooks to help you
Equal Exes Online is your place to find help to guide you through separation and divorce. We offer self-guided workbooks and informational articles (like this one) which can help you be better informed, work out your priorities and how to move smoothly beyond your current relationship. Find all our workbooks here.