What is it they need from us and what is important for us keep focusing on or not let fall by the wayside?
Adolescence. Whew. Big deep breaths. Isn’t it good to be on the other side of it as adults? Thinking back to those turbulent years makes a lot of us squirm or need to take a deep breath as we remember the hundred million emotions that seemed to make up being a teenager.
It’s an odd and painful time, so much love and fun and also so many heartbreaks and people to please and masks to try on just to hopefully find out at the end that you don’t even need a mask at all.
The reality is this: in our current culture, the number of years spent in adolescence has only increased. What used to be mainly thought of as the teenage years (only 7 years) now spans something more like ages 12-24!
Not only is I️t a longer and more confusing time for our kids, it’s a longer and more confusing time for the parents too.
Developmentally, these are the years our children move more and more toward independence and peer relationships over total dependence on us and adult-child relationships. This is a challenging transition for us as parents, but necessary and good as well.
I don’t know if your adolescents have known divorce for many years or not. I do know it is common for parents to split in the late teenage years. Oftentimes, when kids reach 18 and leave for college, parents in unhappy marriages take that as the sign they can finally make moves and get that divorce. Maybe that is your story and that is how you landed here today. You won’t find me preaching on the rightness or wrongness of that decision. What you will find here is some things to keep in mind if your life has led you to the point of family separation.
The assumption a lot of times is that if we can get our kids to the leaving home phase, we have crossed the hypothetical goal line and they don’t need us anymore, except for a little gas money and some place to bring home a truckload of laundry. Yes, it’s true – the needs change. What I️ want to bat against and focus on however is this: as our children, now much older children, grow and change and push away, they still need us. They need us as a safe harbor and home base as much or more now than ever.
So what does it look like to create that for them when their home looks different after divorce?
Do they have two home bases now? What is it they need from us?
What is important for us keep focusing on or not let fall by the wayside?
Six Things Your Teenager Needs Amidst Divorce
1. Continued Presence.
Mark Twain is quoted saying this, “When I️ was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I️ could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I️ got to be twenty-one, I️ was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
So, what if Mark Twain’s father had decided he no longer needed to give his continued presence? His son would have never gotten to come back around to the realization that maybe just maybe his dad was not as ignorant as he assumed so young.
Like we said before, yes, this is a time where children naturally push away from their parents and start seeing us as real people with flaws. Their eyes are opened to our humanness, which can be a great thing and a really challenging reality.
Stepping out onto the ice alone is necessary for adolescents so they can learn who they are and what they stand for. As parents, we cannot fight against I️t unless we want to fight against a tropical storm. However, we can support them in I️t and be near in the eye of the storm.
2. Good Outsider Support.
So, if parents suddenly are human and adolescents are no longer as receptive for a few years.. who are they listening to? They need to be talking to and listening to someone, especially in emotional crises like divorce. Mainly, it’s their peers. We can certainly and even should encourage them to have meaningful, healthy relationships with peers at this age. We can also model it for them in our friendships.
What would it look like for you to tell them about the peers who meant a lot to you in your formational years and how they supported or didn’t support you? Or even tell them about your friends who do that now? What would it look like for you to show them in the way you care for those you are close to as well?
3. Nudges in the Right Direction.
If your children are on the younger end of adolescence and cannot yet drive, put them in positions where they are most likely to make the kinds of relationships mentioned above.
Some ideas for this might look like:
- Finding good school teams, clubs, scouts, youth groups, drama organizations, and other places that have reputations for children to make good relationships and succeed.
- Telling a trusted coach or pastor or instructor to look out for them.
- Seek out an appropriate mentor or college student a few years down the road from your son or daughter who has been through similar things and have them reach out to your child.
Sometimes I️t may seem like your child doesn’t want to talk at all. That could be true in some cases. But more than likely, they may just want to talk to someone other than you. As best as you can, try not to take offense to this. Keep loving them through it and point them in the direction of people they can and will talk to. Eventually, they will likely come back to you. But these years are tricky for that! Also, it is typically not personal.
4. Positive Affirmation and Belief in Who They Are.
In the book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain is says of teens specifically, “what others believe about us can shape how we see ourselves and how we behave.”
Writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says something similar, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.”
Basically what I am hinting at is this: It is so easy to assume the worst about teenagers. They can seem lazy, self-centered, and argumentative most days. They may never pick up their laundry off the floor and you may think they belong in a zoo as easily as they belong in your home.
However, if you get into the habit of assuming the worst of your teen through these years, that may be what they become or if you have so much going on personally that you don’t have the space to slow down and see the best in them, how will they ever know what they could become?
Speak words of life into them. Show them you mean it. Believe in their best selves. This may be a time where they are not believing the best about themselves. After all, it is the land of acne and gossip and bodies changing and friendships changing. What a gift you could give your kids if you believe in and remind them of not only their best selves, but also their worth too!
5. Safe Space(s), Home Base(s).
Okay, so your kids have two homes now. There are several things about two homes that are tricky and feel weird, probably for you and for them, but when it comes to adolescence, there may be a good reframe for the two homes thing too.
Unfortunately, too many kids from middle school through college don’t have even one safe place to call home base. That can often be how our adolescents end up in more trouble than not. Your child has a significant opportunity – the opportunity to have not one but TWO safe places to call home base. Granted this takes work on the side of both parents, engagement from both mom and dad, and willingness to create it as well.
How wonderful would it be, though, if each of you as parents used your unique parenting strengths to create a space where your adolescents could come (likely with their friends in tow) to rest, breathe, connect, and be themselves?
One of my favorite authors talks fondly of her children reaching the adolescent years and the changes they made in their family to accommodate the changes in their children. She lives near the lake and said they scraped together a little bit of money to buy a used boat and encouraged their children to invite their friends anytime it was feasible and they would all go to the lake together.
What she was doing is a combination of many of these needs – providing a safe space, continuing to offer their presence, and fostering healthy peer relationships.
It also gave them one final thing every adolescent needs in these years that definitely can get forgotten and overlooked amidst divorce.
6. Have Fun With Them!
Adolescents are a blast. They are creative and funny, full of energy and so unique. Things can get kind of serious as divorce hits and relationships get rocky, but your teenager desperately needs you to still make space to have fun with them.
For your family and teens, it may not be a boat that brings these needs together, but what could it be? How can you show up for your adolescents and give them these gifts they absolutely need?
We would love to hear from you how you and your family are already doing this well!
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