When parents split

By admin
24 January 2014

Parents separating or divorcing is really common these days. Here are some tips on how to deal with it

WHEN Evie (15) was told the news that her parents were separating, her initial reaction was one of shock, followed by grief.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” she says. “I remember going to school and telling everyone how excited I was to get two houses, but then the reality of the situation set in and I struggled with it for a while. I kind of felt like the split was my fault.”

It’s normal to feel a sense of confusion or guilt when processing this life-changing news, divorce counsellor Yvonne Rafaraci says. “Many teens try to rationalise the break-up and often believe it was partly their fault.”

Sadness might come and go, and that’s totally normal and understandable. “The more you resist feeling sad, the longer your feelings may hang around,” clinical psychologist Louise Shepherd says.

On the flipside, it’s also okay to not feel sad at all. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging ourselves and our feelings as good or bad but these emotions are normal and we all experience them at times,” she adds.

So now the bomb has dropped and your emotions are going crazy, where do you go from here?

Keeping things normal

There’ll be a whole heap of changes happening within your family, some of which will be out of your control, so it’s important to try to keep your routine as normal as possible. Louise suggests calmly talking to your mom and dad to let them know how they can support you through this time.

“In the heat of the separation they may forget at times how hard it is for you, too, so you might need to remind them,” she says. “Tell them what you’d like to happen, for example, ‘I’d really like both of you to stay involved in my tennis training’.”

Keeping up your regular activities, such as catching up with friends and playing sport, will give you distance from what’s going on at home and allow for time to breathe. “Dropping out of your extra-curricular activities can make you feel isolated and allow too much time for negative thoughts,” Yvonne says.

Staying neutral

It’s super easy for teens to get caught in the middle of their parents’ feuds during the separation and even long after. But luckily there are ways to avoid these uncomfortable situations. “If you’re feeling more anger towards one parent, it can be helpful to ask the other parent not to encourage that anger,” Louise says. “Ultimately, you deserve to work out your own relationships with each parent without being influenced by the other’s feelings.”

If your parents are trying to involve you, suggest they discuss their problems with another adult, like one of their friends. Let them know how upsetting it is to hear the details of their disagreements and explain that you think it might impact on your feelings towards both of them, Louise says.

Now for the positives!

Over time you might uncover positives from the split that you’d never thought of before. After her parents divorced Mikayla (16), discovered not only was her family unit more stable, but she also enjoyed the benefits of having two places to call home. “Going back and forth between them can be good if I want a break from a parent or sibling,” she says. You might also discover you have a new outlook on what’s important to you. “You could learn about how you do and don’t want to act when you’re in your own relationships,” Yvonne says.

“It’s also valuable to take out of this experience all you’ve learnt about acceptance of situations and the strength to get through tough times, which you’ll experience in different degrees in your adult life.”

To get to this happy place, Louise suggests not forcing yourself to see the positives, but instead allowing yourself to be open to all the feelings and thoughts. “This acceptance gives you the potential to develop a special new relationship with each parent and bring you closer than before,” she explains.

“It’s likely there will be bumpy patches but you might find your relationship with both parents gets better as you have more one-on-one time.”

Who to talk to

Although you’re no doubt worried about your parents, it’s important not to forget about your own feelings too. Yvonne advises that you seek unbiased help outside of your family. “Often parents are going through such a traumatic time themselves they may feel lost on how to help you, which means your feelings could go unheard.” she says.

You can chat with a family friend, neighbour, teacher or a psychologist. Or approach your school counsellor – they’re free, confidential and can help you organise special concessions for schoolwork if needed.

Most importantly, remember you’re not alone and there’s no shame in speaking to someone about how you’re feeling.

If you’re still feeling down, get in touch with the Family and Marriage Association of South Africa (Famsa, www.famsa.org.za) at 021-447-0170 (Cape Town), 011-788-4784 (Joburg) or 031-202-8987 (Durban).

When dad/mom moves on

Has one of your folks met someone else? Here are some pointers from our experts Louise and Yvonne on how to handle the situation.

- You’re not expected to like the new person straight away. Maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but do your best to be polite.

- Remember no one will ever replace your other parent, even though it might feel like that’s what’s happening.

- Be honest and share your needs with your parents in a respectful way.

- Mom and Dad are more likely to take your opinions seriously if you stay calm when you talk about how you feel rather than shouting and blaming them.

Text credit: ACP Syndication

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