Judy and Rich are typical parents who have become distant and argue a lot. Their problems lead to a decision to divorce. Not an uncommon scenario in today’s world. Jamie, their thirteen-year-old daughter, and Peter, their ten-year-old son, are caught off guard when Judy tells them what’s happening. They react differently.
Initially, Jamie denies that her parent’s split is really happening. She justifies her father’s recent absence as being due to his job. Quickly, those thoughts turn to blame as she voices her newfound anger; first toward her father, who she calls a jerk, and next toward her mother for how mean she’d been over the years. In Jamie’s eyes, her mother’s behavior must have caused their father’s departure.
Peter, who’d always been proud that his family was one of the few that were still together, also seeks to blame. He suggests his father’s absence means he doesn’t care for them. When Judy sticks up for him and acknowledges her own poor behavior as a contributing factor, Peter becomes defensive of her. His mother’s present kindness gives Peter hope that they might reconsider and stay together.
As time wears on and reality sets in, Jamie becomes rebellious. She makes friends with a group of troublesome kids and yet blames her parents’ for the problems that begin rising up in her life. Peter becomes quieter and spends more time with Judy, becoming protective of her, though he doesn’t really hate his father either.
Various Coping Mechanisms to Divorce
There are many different responses teens have to divorce, each leading to experiences as unique as the individuals we are. Often, when our parents’ divorce, we react to the change, struggle with it and try to find where we fit. In the process, we challenge our parents, looking for the boundaries that will become our new norm. Frequently, parental limits change. Not only do we find our boundaries and house rules different than before, but they’re different under each parent.
Many times, the guilt and stress experienced by adults during and after divorce lead them to become lenient in parenting. Also, the changed family structure means some parents are expected to be more involved than they’d been, even if they don’t know how to parent well. Teens are able to play on these issues. Shifting and unclear expectations, however, can easily result in making poor choices. Poor choices can create feelings of guilt. Guilty feelings tend to lead to anger and blame once more as we wonder why our parents don’t care enough to set boundaries. This circle is destructive and we become unhappy with who we are turning out to be. In some ways, this is how Jamie reacted.
Some of us react in quite the opposite way, especially if we have younger siblings or we’re sympathetic to one parent over the other. We might find ourselves taking on the role of parent, either to our siblings or to a hurting parent. In the process, we give up our freedom, our childhood, our social activities, to become responsible for others. Though this may look good, and perhaps even feel good, it can be detrimental just the same. In some ways, this is how Peter reacted.
Surviving and Thriving Through Divorce
How can we survive and thrive when our lives are disrupted by divorce? How do we get beyond the struggles that seem to snowball in our lives after such an abrupt and life altering change? How can we stop being angry, resentful, rebellious or hurt? It’s a tough blow when we realize we don’t really have control of our lives. Experiencing divorce as a teen makes that reality painfully clear. Unfortunately, it often leads us to lose trust in many things: people, love, relationships, even in good things. We’re easily swayed into looking at life negatively, believing that we’re going to be betrayed by those we trust, attacked by those who claim to love us, and that nothing good lasts forever.
Take heart, you can overcome! Life is tough, but you can overcome! There will certainly be times that are difficult. It’s part of the powerful lesson that we are not in control. The myriad of reactions we have to our parents’ divorces come from our attempts at gaining control for our lives, trying to establish stability where stability has become lost. It can be seen in the poor choices we make as we push to find new boundaries. It can be seen in our attempts to care for the needs of others that are not our responsibility. It can be seen in our reactions as we push people away, determined not to be hurt again.
Let go of that control. It’s not yours anyway. God is the only one with it. Seek Him and His peace. Simply be in that space. Get quiet with Him. Get close to Him. You can reach out to Him anytime, anywhere and very privately. Turn your focus to Him. Talk to Him. He knows what you’re going through. He’s watching, waiting for you to partner with Him. Ask Him to join you on this journey of life. Invite His Holy Spirit in. That Holy Spirit is filled with wisdom, love, hope and peace. That’s powerful! Let yourself be filled with Him and enjoy those qualities as they impact your view of life. Seek God’s guidance for your next steps. Let Him lead you through your circumstances, and you will soon see the beauty of what He is allowing. Once you focus on Him, once you fall in love with Him, once you come to trust Him, your outlook will be brighter. As you grow in this amazing relationship, you’ll be surprised. One day you’ll look back and see that the anger is gone, the hurt has diminished, the resentment is no more and you are whole.