Separation is a rollercoaster and things seldom go to plan. Here are some typical reactions by teenagers and how to respond to them.
This is quite normal. Teenagers may choose to protect themselves by:
- Changing the subject when you talk about it.
- Choosing not to tell others, such as friends, teachers or family members.
- Making up excuses for the change in the family.
- Talking about the family as if nothing has changed.
- Trying to plan events that involve both parents being together.
- Resisting spending time in the other home with their other parent because it makes the situation more real for them.
Let them. Give them time and space. Tell them you will listen to whatever they say, whenever they say it.
Anger is normal and understandable on the part of your teenager, but very difficult to manage as a parent, particularly if you are really upset already!
Typical expressions of anger in teenagers include:
- Antisocial behaviour, breaking rules.
- Disrespect and saying “I hate you”.
- Blaming one or both parents.
- Emotional outbursts.
- Engaging in risky and dangerous behaviours.
Don’t argue with the anger. Say you are ready to talk and listen. Say you understand how incredibly painful it all is. Tell them it is OK to be angry, but that it’s not OK to put themselves or others at risk because of it.
There is advice about anger for them on this site.
Young people can, consciously or unconsciously, try to fix things so that the family is ‘back to normal’.
They might promise to be good, create events that require their parents to work together, develop physical symptoms (e.g. stomach ache, headache) that require both parents to care for them together, play up at school and get into trouble so that you have to focus on them not you, or make you feel guilty and ashamed.
This is all part of the process of accepting the separation. It can take teenagers a long time to accept that the separation is going ahead.
Signs of depression include:
- Being sad all the time.
- Being very tired all the time.
- Losing enjoyment in things they use to like.
- Being agitated and/or irritable.
- Crying a lot.
- Not sleeping at night or sleeping all the time.
- Indicating self-hatred through statements such as “I wish I had never been born” or “Life would better without me around.”
Reassurance that it is OK to feel sad can be helpful, but try hard not to overcompensate in an attempt to avoid the sadness. Accept that they are going to have these feelings, just as you are, and help them talk about it and get the support they need from you and others in their lives.
There is advice here from other young people about feeling sad without going under.
A child can act angrily and hurtfully against a parent. This may be because they believe that parent is to blame, a story that may be encouraged by the other parent. This is a painful experience for the rejected parent. It is difficult to help your teenager without first getting the support you need, legally and emotionally.
Give them time and space. Leave the door open so they can come to you when they feel able. If they have rejected you, you cannot force the pace.
Sibling relationships reflect the marital relationship, both within intact families and those going through separation. Your children may well take their frustration and anger out on one another, especially if they feel unable to express it to you as parents directly. Encourage your children to engage in positive activities together, make sure you spend time all together and praise them when they are getting on well.
Talk to your children about how supportive they can be for one another if they work together. Teenagers will be quick to point out the flaws in the marital relationship. Explain to them that this is a different relationship to siblings but that practising getting on together now will help build up great skills for future friendships and relationships.