The Age of Innocence: Parenting a Teen Through Divorce

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July 9, 2020 by Indiana Lee

No one enters into a marriage expecting it to end in divorce. No parent wants their child to have to face the separation of her parents. But not even a divorce can change the fact that you, your former spouse, and the children you made together are, and always, will be a family, 

If parental separation is handled well, a child of divorce doesn’t come from a “broken home”. She has two fixed homes. Together, you and your former spouse can shepherd your child through this transition. No, it won’t always be easy. No, you won’t always have all the answers and you may sometimes feel as if you simply don’t know what you’re doing. And yes, you will make mistakes.

But that’s okay. Because you’re human and humans make mistakes. And when your child sees you and your former spouse facing adversity together as a whole family, even in the face of divorce, then they’re going to learn resilience.

You’re going to show your child how to build a happy, peaceful, and productive life, how to overcome challenges and rise above conflict and pain.

A United Front

A divorce doesn’t just happen. There’s always history behind it. It doesn’t matter whether the precipitating event was some painful trauma, such as an extramarital affair, or just unhappiness on one or both sides.

When there is a painful past history, the temptation is for parents to lash out against each other. You might not even be conscious of the fact that you’re holding onto resentments or that, without even realizing it, you’re using your child to hurt the other parent.

But helping your child through a divorce means taking care to maintain a positive attitude regarding the other parent. Encourage your child to grow her relationship with your former spouse.

This will mean taking particular note of the things you might say or do regarding the other parent in front of your child. Being mindful in this way will help ensure you’re not consciously or unconsciously doing anything that might compromise your child’s relationship with the other parent.

Take care not only to avoid speaking negatively about your former spouse in front of your child but even to compliment or praise the other parent in front of them. Likewise, being proactive in planning special activities for your child and the other parent, or for all of you together, will show them that it’s okay for them to look forward to time spent with the other parent.

Encourage your child to talk about the fun times they have with the other parent will reassure them that loving and bonding with the other parent is not being disloyal to you. Showing them that you are happy when they are happy with the other parent will be incredibly freeing for your child, who may worry that they need to “pick a side” in the divorce.

On the other hand, bad-mouthing the other parent in front of your child or limiting your child’s access to the other parent is depriving them of an essential emotional bond. It is a form of alienation that can have severe and long-term mental health consequences for your child.

On the other hand, supporting and facilitating your child’s relationship with the other parent teaches them to embrace all of who they are because your child is a perfect combination of the two of you. Cultivating a strong relationship with both mom and dad means helping your child cultivate her own strong sense of self-worth and self-acceptance.

A Safe Space

When you’re learning to co-parent your teen after a divorce, one of the most important things you can do is to stick as close to the normal routine as possible. Have a clearly defined custody schedule and honor it.

And when your child is with you, make sure that your child understands that your home is, and always will be, their home as well. One of the best ways to do this is to trick out your child’s bedroom. Fill the space with things they love, things that make them feel happy and comforted.

When your child begins to see your home as a safe and welcoming space, a place where they belong, then they’re going to feel more confident, secure, and certain. They will have the stable home life they need, even if that means two homes for the price of one!

Teen Talk

Because your child is a teenager, you might feel like you’re getting off relatively easy. It can be tempting to think that older children adapt more easily to parental divorce than younger ones do.

But that’s simply not the case. Adolescence is a turbulent time in and of itself. Add to that the experience of parental divorce and your teen might become overwhelmed, angry, and depressed.

No matter how committed you and your ex may be to ensuring that the divorce is as positive and healthy as it can possibly be for your family, and especially for your child, you still must expect a period of adjustment.

Your teen may be just as upset as a younger child would be — perhaps even more so because they have a clearer understanding of the changes that are occurring. They just may be better at hiding their emotions.

That’s why the importance of communication truly can’t be overestimated. Unfortunately, though, communication isn’t exactly something at which most teens excel, even in the best of circumstances.

So you’re probably going to need to get creative. Autism researchers have found that alternative forms of communication, such as using images or electronic communication devices, can be incredibly helpful for children who have difficulty with traditional verbal expression.

The same principle can apply for children without autism as well: when one form of communication isn’t working, look for another. As in the example above, if your child has trouble speaking about his feelings, encourage him to use images — from painting to photography. If your child needs a diversion before she can open up, plan a fishing trip or a nature hike, something to get her talking while her mind is focused elsewhere.

The Takeaway

Divorce is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be devastating. In fact, it can be a period of positive, constructive change for your family, as you and your former spouse model for your child resiliency, overcoming, and the enduring strength of family, the reality that a divorce does not mean the dissolution of the bonds you, your ex, and your children share.  What it requires, though, is selflessness and strategy. To see your child through, you’re going to need a strong, clear, and thoughtful co-parenting, and the will and integrity to honor it.

Indiana Lee lives in the Northwest and has a passion for the environment and healthy lifestyles. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana enjoys mountain bicycling and hiking on her off time and has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to contact her at or follow her on twitter @indianalee3  

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