teen girl sad about parents divorce

Divorced Parents: Dealing with Divorce

The mouse had a broken leg, and it was squirming on the concrete, suffering.  A 12 year old girl stood over it cringing, holding a shovel in her hands, and feeling sorry for the little creature.  She looked over her shoulder, through the kitchen window, and saw her mom cringing even harder. The girl didn’t want the animal to suffer anymore, so she raised the shovel, poised to strike. 

My friend, Anne, told me this story about the time she had to dispatch a mouse.  Her parents divorced a few years before, and she lived with her mom.  Anne felt responsible for taking on traditionally male-dominated tasks for her mother.  She lifted the heavy things, worked outside, and, in this case and a few others, dispatched of the creepie crawlies. Several years later, her mom got remarried, and Anne felt relieved that her mom would be safe, and wouldn’t be alone, when Anne went off to college.  

Anne’s mom was not the least bit incapable of handling things on her own. She’d been a single mom before, she had a steady job, and she was the more responsible of the two parents.  She managed most household tasks even when she was married.  In fact, Anne had learned much of her independence and strength from her mother. But the family had also lived according to some traditional gender roles that had worn off on Anne. She had decided that if there was no man in the house to do certain tasks, those tasks fell to her.

Teens Caring for Divorced Parents

It isn’t uncommon for kids of divorced parents, teens especially, to feel responsible for caring for at least one of their parents, even if the parents are perfectly capable of caring for themselves. I wonder if it’s a way to regain some sense of control in the midst of an uncontrollable situation.  

You can’t stop your parents from divorcing.  It might mean you have to move, change schools, or bounce back and forth between houses.  You might not see one parent very much or at all.  You might not even want to see one parent.  These things are scary and confusing, and it’s totally normal to want to be responsible for something so that you have some control.  

Don’t Take Responsibility for Your Parents’ Feelings

If you’re noticing you’re feeling that way, I want to encourage you to not take on more than your fair share.  Sure, you can squish the spiders for your mom or make your dad dinner sometimes when he’s tired, but let the adults do the adulting.  Let the adults figure out the finances, and who’s getting the lawnmower when everything is divided up.  Most importantly, don’t take responsibility for their feelings.  You might see them cry or be angry or blame each other, and it’s ok to say, “You should talk to an adult about that,” if it feels like more than you can handle or something that shouldn’t involve you.

Learning to Accept Help

One of the good things that can come out of divorce is learning to accept help from other people.  We tend to be so independent in our culture, and sometimes it’s being in a crisis that forces us to understand the need for community.  Your parents may not each know how to do everything the other parent knew how to do.  You may find them accepting help from other people in ways they didn’t before the divorce.  

On the other hand, you may find them rejecting help that you wish they would take, or you may wonder if it’s ok for you to take help from another adult with something that your parent used to do for you.  Some parents may be embarrassed they can’t do everything for you, or frustrated that your other parent isn’t around to help anymore.  You can be sensitive to those feelings, while still accepting the help that you need.   

Talk to your parents about navigating this new need for help.  Let them know that you are learning to be interdependent, which means helping other people when you can and accepting help when you need it.  Give your mom or dad a big hug: it’s been tough on all of you, but you’ll learn new things and you’ll be ok.  

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