Divorce can be a very stressful event for you and your family. Whether because of having to move to a new home, disputes over parenting time, or the emotional impact of divorce in general, you and your teen are likely to encounter stressors that test your relationship.
After your divorce, you might also wonder how to strengthen your relationship with your teen, get it back to where it was pre-divorce if it feels compromised, or make it stronger than it ever was, given the changes that both of you have experienced recently. As a formerly divorced parent of four children (I’m since remarried) and family law attorney, here are my suggestions.
1. Communicate with your teen.
Talking with your teen regularly is one of the most important things you can do following a divorce. Discussing the exact circumstances of your divorce may not be necessary. However, explaining your perspective or answering questions when they ask can help your teen process the situation.
Conversing with your teen can also help them to feel validated in their emotions and reactions. Reassuring them that their emotional well-being matters, too, can be accomplished by actively listening and truly considering what they tell you.
Try to be non-judgmental about their feelings about the divorce, and encourage them to share what they are experiencing with you. If your teen believes they can talk to you about the divorce or anything else for that matter, your relationship with them should become stronger. Instead of pushing you away and internalizing their emotions, they will be more inclined to come to you for support when they need it as time goes on.
2. Do things with them.
In addition to connecting with them, make an effort actually to hang out with them on a regular basis. This can be something as simple as cooking a meal together. An activity or outing that allows you to talk and connect with them is best, but what matters is that you do something together.
Making sure that your teen does not feel isolated from you or your ex-partner in a divorce can be challenging, but establishing that they are an important part of your day or week can help to mitigate some of the stress or anxiety that they might face with the changes divorce brings.
If you had engaged with them in regular activities prior to the divorce, consider starting them up again or coming up with new ones. This can be a helpful practice for re-establishing parts of your relationship that might have weakened during the divorce.
3. Avoid speaking poorly of your ex-partner.
Conflict in a divorce is often unavoidable, but your teen does not need to see or hear the worst parts of it. Helping your teen through tough situations is an important part of the divorce process, but you should refrain from speaking poorly about your ex-partner to them, especially if they are still in your teen’s life. Negativity and hostility do not have to be part of moments of conflict.
Instead, co-parent with your ex whenever you can and as peacefully as you can. It is important to keep your kids front and center, just not in the middle of it all.
Additionally, be respectful and encourage them to act the same way. Everyone involved will likely experience some form of negative emotions during the divorce. However, if you yourself are respectful to your ex, you show them instead of tell what a healthy relationship post-divorce can look like. Speaking of showing …
4. Model healthy coping mechanisms.
In addition to being respectful all around, you should model healthy coping mechanisms. This is helpful for you, but it is also especially important for your teen, who will likely look to you for cues on how to act during this stressful time.
You might consider inviting them to partake in certain coping strategies that you use. If you run to relieve stress, for instance, invite them to join you. If you have a strong group of friends who you can confide in about the divorce, encourage them to use their social network as well.
If you seek therapy or counseling for divorce-related stress, don’t stigmatize this. Encourage them to ask for mental health help if they feel they might need it and facilitate it for them. Being transparent about how you are doing and what you are doing to cope can make your teen feel better connected to you.
Remember, you are a key part of their support network. Providing them with tools to handle your divorce can help them better process the situation and have a better relationship with you.
5. Include your teen in decision-making.
There are certain circumstances that your teen will not be able to have control over during the divorce. But including them in decisions can help them to regain a sense of agency, making them less likely to view you as authoritarian or an enemy.
This does not mean giving them full reign over every aspect of their life (and how it relates to the divorce) or yours. Instead, it means including them in conversations about issues that are relevant to them. It means asking them their opinion on what affects them.
You still have the final say as a parent, but giving your teen some agency can help them have a better relationship even amid the lack of control that children sense and face during a divorce. They are more likely to view you as having their best interests at heart if they believe you are actually listening to them and are seriously considering their point of view.
6. Be consistent.
Being reliable, consistent, and predictable can be hard, even without the added complexity of a divorce. After a divorce, however, these qualities are especially important. The changes your teen faces after a divorce can make a new normal seem impossible. This is why it is crucial to be as reliable as possible.
This can take shape in many ways depending on your circumstances. It might look like having set meals with them each week. Or a set wake up or bedtime. A sense of consistency can help your teen feel more connected to you and their new normal.
The same goes for rules. If your teen will spend time at your ex’s house, talk to your ex about their expectations and rules for your teen and try to be consistent (or as consistent as possible) across both households. This reduces the tension your teen might feel and helps them to have a better sense of what to expect from both of you.
7. Take care of yourself.
Stop what you are doing and put on your oxygen mask. Now. Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things you can do as a parent going through a divorce. Eat, sleep, exercise, and connect with those around you, if you haven’t been doing these things already.
Be sure to seek support, whether from a friend, a therapist, or a doctor, when you need to. You will be in a far better position to support your teen if you are strong physically, mentally, and emotionally. Everything discussed above flows from you first.
Find a Seattle divorce attorney who puts family first.
Divorce can be a confusing time for your teen, causing rifts in your relationship. However, if you focus on taking affirmative steps to prioritize their wellbeing and your relationship with them, you can begin building or rebuilding a solid foundation, one strong enough to carry them with confidence and security into adulthood.
At Elise Buie Family Law, our number one priority in our representation of you during divorce is to prepare for life after divorce. Our talented team of family law \ and estate planning attorneys understand and appreciate that a divorce involves so much more than the divorce process itself, from the time leading up to it through the years that follow. Call our Seattle office today.