These top 10 tips have been produced by Voices in the Middle, which is a collaboration between young people, the family law & mediation sector and The Family Initiative charity to provide a dedicated place for young people to find help and support when in the middle of divorce and separation.
You can also access a full “conversation guide” for parents of teenagers by going to: voicesinthemiddle.com/for-parents/conversation. This was written with young people and with the law firm, Woolley & Co, and features advice from teenagers who have been through their parents’ separation.
DO tell them that family relationships will be sustained.
The family will change, but for the majority of people, your teenager’s relationships with family members will stay.
“I know at the time it’s happening it will feel like your walls are falling down but take a look around you at how many people’s parents have broken up and see that they’re still happy.” – Molly (15)
“To go from having a full, ‘normal’ family to a completely different lifestyle is enormous and should never be taken lightly.” – Jess (17)
DO tell them both parents still love them and will keep on doing that whatever changes happen.
“3 bears, yes we used to be/ but it wasn’t meant forever as I see/ the memories will always live on/ and repeat in my head like my favourite song.” – Kat (15)
“If you want to keep in contact with your child and you are not their main carer, please regularly make plans to see them and try your best not to cancel, because that makes the child feel like they are not worth it.” – Meg (17)
DO tell them it’s not their fault.
You can see that you are sorry and that you did not mean things to turn out this way. As well as not being their fault, it is also not their responsibility to try to fix things – the relationship between you and your partner is your own affair.
“You automatically think it’s your fault or you had part in it, but it’s not, it’s between your mum and your dad.” – Sammie (17)
DO listen very carefully to what your teenager says.
Ask about their concerns and suggestions about how to organise the future. They can often see solutions you cannot and they know better than you what is important to them.
But also make clear they are not responsible for making decisions – only you do that.
“Now, I’m not one to let things get to me, but what I’m trying to say is, I kept it bottled up constantly, all that anger, confusion, and fear of what was right around the corner. It only led to me making it worse for myself, having huge outbursts of anger or tears, and it wasn’t healthy.” – Tyla (15)
DO give them space and privacy to react and be prepared for negativity.
This is an incredibly difficult situation for them and working through it will take time, perhaps a lot of time.
“It took me over five years to accept what had happened and finally open up to my friends about my family.” – Cerys (15)
“But just know that hand on heart, it does get easier as time allows you to heal. It took me 10 years to realise that I wasn’t to blame for my parents’ divorce but once I did, I felt much better.” – Niamh (16)
DO cry while you talk if you need to, but don’t raise your voice.
If you start reacting unhelpfully, do things you know help to keep you calm, for example, deep breathing or time out.
“Often adults do make wrong choices because after all, we’re all human. But just know that hand on heart, it does get easier as time allows you to heal.” – Niamh (16)
DO be honest and clear.
Only promise things you can guarantee to deliver. If you have already decided on changes – one parent moving out, for example – be clear and precise about it.
“I was anxious about me, my mum and my brother moving from our home of over 10 years and finding somewhere else. Money would be a lot tighter than before and I was terrified that we would end up somewhere bad. I spent hours on the Internet looking for property rentals in the local area, out of curiosity and hesitance.” – Stephanie (17)
DON’T talk negatively about your partner to your teenager.
If your partner is indeed responsible for any abuse or neglect, keep it factual and focused on the negative behaviour rather than the person (e.g. “they are doing a bad thing”, not “they are bad”.)
“Parents, don’t bad mouth the other parent to your child. We want to be able to form our own opinion on what’s happened, and it makes us upset to see someone we love bad mouthing someone who, although you might not love them any more, we very much do.” –Josie (15)
DON’T coach your child to take your side.
Don’t tell them what to say to your partner and how to relate to them. Parents can do this unintentionally. Tell your teenager specifically that you don’t want them to take sides.
“Parents may unknowingly pressure you to take their side. A way of coping with this is to try and explain that you love them both and want to be kept out of their issues. As adults, they shouldn’t bring you into arguments. It isn’t good for you mentally, and it can cause distress and anxiety” – Sophie (16), advising other teenagers
(And the most important DO of all again….) DO tell them that family relationships will be sustained.
“I will never be the same as I was before but I think that’s a blessing. In my opinion, I am better than I was before all this happened, I am more mature and self-confident. I am stronger than ever, and I finally like the person I’ve become.” – Ami (16)
For the full Voices in the Middle Conversation Guide, see https://www.voicesinthemiddle.com/for-parents/conversation/. Here you can read more about how to prepare (but not over-prepare!), questions that you could use to open up the conversation and tips on ‘active listening’.