How To Cope With Your Parents’ Divorce
Divorce is hard, especially for children. No matter what age, whether they be five years old or thirty-eight years old, it can wreak a great deal of havoc and emotional turmoil. Children may be finally relieved that the fighting is finally over but are unsure of how the future will play out, or it may come as such a surprise that they begin to question the sincerity of their childhood.
My mom and dad divorced when I was four years old, and when I was 17, my mom went through her second divorce. Despite my parents doing their absolute best, I wasn’t overly familiar with stability growing up. I was fortunate to have parents who could sit together at soccer games and even remain friends. But their divorce came with a ton of changes that were sometimes tough. I bounced back and forth between two very different households; I navigated accepting their new partners; and sometimes I felt the awkwardness between them, causing me stress and anxiety. Alternatively, my mom’s second divorce was messy and ugly. After 15 years of marriage, I could see the sadness and heartbreak on my mother's face. I found myself taking on her stress and anger, and I even began to question the integrity of the institution of marriage.
As I said, divorce is hard, and every ending can look different. Regardless of the situation, children can experience a sense of disorientation, heartbreak, anger, and even cause them to wonder if love is actually real.
If you are a child of divorced parents, you're not alone. Almost 50% of marriages in the United States end in divorce. Your thoughts and feelings throughout this experience are valid, but you must do your very best to engage in healthy coping mechanisms so that you can preserve your well-being.
When we watch two people who vowed to each other, "Till death do us part," and that vow no longer holds, it can cause us to develop negative beliefs about relationships. Additionally, it can cause us to put our lives on pause as we deal with the chaos happening at home, preventing us from experiencing joy and meaning in our lives.
Despite the situation, you can work through this difficult adjustment using the methods below to maintain your well-being and have a positive outlook on relationships.
Methods to Help You Cope with Divorce
Change your perception
Divorce can cause us to adopt a realm of beliefs. We need to remember that these thoughts and beliefs will determine our reality. So if we assume new beliefs that are sabotaging us, we have to shift our perception. For example, you may believe that true love doesn't exist, so you hold back from meeting new people. This can prevent you from meeting the person who is meant for you.
Here are some additional harmful beliefs you may have because of your parent's divorce:
- "My parents are now unhappy because of the divorce."
- "The divorce was my fault."
- "True love doesn't exist."
- "Their love was never real."
- "I'm never going to have a successful marriage."
Like the previous example, these thoughts do not serve you. They only hold you back from experiencing relationships and overall happiness in your life.
Here are some ways to reframe these thoughts:
- "My parents got divorced so that they could find happiness."
- "Their divorce has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the problems they experienced in their relationship."
- "True love does exist, there just may be heartbreaks and mistakes along the way."
- "Their love was once real, it just changed."
- "I will find my person, regardless of whether I get a divorce or not."
Your beliefs ultimately determine how you experience this world. Despite the circumstances and challenges that come with divorce, prioritize having a healthy mindset so you can cultivate the life you want.
Journal to cope
Alongside those thoughts, you may experience various emotions when your parents separate - guilt, anger, heartbreak, sadness, shock. When we experience these emotions, it can alter how we navigate this world. Journaling is an excellent tool to help you dump your thoughts and emotions out on paper so you can see how they are impacting you, and later determine an action plan to get back to the life you want. Here are some prompts to help you get started:
- Write an honest letter to both of your parents expressing how you feel (you don't have to send it)
- What are your fears about their divorce?
- How is their divorce impacting you?
- Despite the circumstances, what are you grateful for?
- What do you want most for your parents? What relationship do you want to have with them? How can this be possible?
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is key to maintaining healthy relationships with both parents. This may mean having some tough and emotional conversations. The payoff is that you will be open about how you feel and they will be more mindful and considerate of your wants and needs during this challenging time.
For example, many children of divorced parents are put "in the middle" of the separation, whether it be to pass back and forth messages or having to listen to each parent make snide comments about the other. Often, parents who get divorced aren't even aware of how it's impacting their children because they're so caught up in the divorce itself. You must sit down with your parents and communicate that you still love them despite what happened. But you also need to tell them that you're not willing to pass along their messages and are not okay with what they're saying. Most likely, they will be receptive to your needs and stop altogether. If they happen to trip up every now and then, I always recommend trying to remain neutral (or "Switzerland") so you don't internalize what they say and experience an emotional response. I also recommend going to a space to decompress so you can redirect my focus, like going for a walk or drive.
Lean on those around you… who aren't your parents
It's easy to feel alone when your parents get divorced, especially because they tend to be the ones to go to when something is wrong. It's important to lean on those who aren't your parents and make space to grieve. Lean on friends, other relatives, and mental health professionals. If you have a sibling, they can be the ultimate go-to for support because they truly get what's going on and what you're going through (because they are too!).
Acceptance is key to moving forward from any adversity, including divorce. It does not mean you have to like the situation or even embrace it. Acceptance is about acknowledging that you cannot control your parents' divorce, but you can control how you respond. When you accept any given situation, you experience more peace and ease in your life.
Divorce is hard. But it doesn’t mean you have to continue putting your life on hold. No matter the situation, there are people, including your parents, who love you unconditionally… and these people wouldn’t want you getting caught up in a relationship that isn’t yours. To preserve a healthy relationship with your parents, don’t put yourself in the middle of it all.
It’s also important to remember that divorce can lead to greater happiness, joy, and peace. By changing the narrative, you can continue finding meaning in your life so that you can heal and move forward.
Written by Guest Author, Hailey Rodgers