Couples get divorced every day, am I right?
That’s what I always thought. It wasn’t even so much a thought as an assumption, along with the idea that I would never get divorced.
Well, you know what they say about assumptions. I am coming up on my one-year anniversary of my divorce being final. Before the final date of any divorce, there are years of questioning and second guessing and struggle and marriage counseling and pain.
I used to think of it all as a glib, “people get divorced every day.” Now I know better. And despite dealing with grief and trauma for my entire life, I have continued to be surprised by what I could not know about being a divorced mom of teenagers.
Do Not Take Anything Personally
The process of separation and divorce is gut wrenching. It is long and hard (that’s what she said) and can seem like it will never end.
The most important thing to remember when raising teens at all, but especially through the divorce process: Do Not Take Anything Personally. This also applies to your former spouse.
Here are some cases in point. Your former spouse seems to treat their new significant other better than they treated you? Those house renovations that you always wanted are finally getting done? Your former spouse is stepping up and being present with the kids now that you’re out of the picture?
Do not take any of that personally. I didn’t say don’t get angry or grieve what is no more and all that could have been – by all means, have at it. But also realize that their behavior is not about you, and you are not responsible for it. This can be a tricky transition when divorcing, because we have become used to caring about that other person and now – poof – that obligation is gone.
When dealing with teens during divorce, it is even more important to not take anything personally. Maybe the kids fight you on wanting to stay with you or the other parent. Or they try to play you and your former spouse against each other. Or they refuse to communicate with you.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg, I know. And I also know that this is almost impossible to believe, but it’s not personal. Even when it feels personal, the behavior of other people is not about you.
Other people’s behavior is about their pain and scars and humanness. Realizing this can help you to take a deep breath, have compassion, and not explode with reaction.
People Aren’t Going to Like Each Other…and That’s Okay
Many divorced people do not wait long before hitting the dating scene. I should know, I was one of them. Like I said, a divorce being final represents years of strife, grieving, trying, and working. The day a divorce is final is simply a legal date, a landmark on the larger journey.
And we are wired for relationship, so it surprises me not at all that divorcees enter into relationships of all kinds, timing be damned.
I met my current partner not long after I started dating. Which, to be honest, made me mad, because I liked him so much and I didn’t want to. I was going to “take my time” and “date around” and “have fun.” And then one of those dates turned into another date, and another, and then I was a goner.
I waited several months before introducing my current partner to my teens. Spending time all together – his kids and my kids and the two of us – is wonderful and awkward, all at the same time.
This is to be expected.
Your teenagers may not like the person you are with. In fact, I would bet on it. First, they have good memories of you and your former spouse together. Of family vacations and holidays and traditions and dinners around the dining room table. Seeing their parents with new partners is – at best – challenging.
Plus, they don’t know the new person like you do. You love this person, spend a lot of time with him or her, have made memories and new traditions and, quite possibly, a home together. Teens are at the age of pulling away, so they don’t get the time with the new person that a younger child might. And it’s not just the other person, it’s their kids and extended family, and with two parents, double all of that. That would be overwhelming for anyone, not just a teenager.
Buckle up, things are going to feel awkward. Transitions always do.
It’s Easier to Leave – or Stay – Mad Than Sad
Teenagers are developmentally wired to pull away at a certain age, emotionally and even physically. A good friend of mine – her children grown and out of the house – told me that the hardest year was when her kids turned 17.
Now with a 17-year-old, I get it. They are *just* old enough to see what’s coming up – more independence, continuing education, career, voting, moving out – but not yet that magic age to do any of it.
It’s frustrating. They get angry. They express that anger around safe people. Those safe people are parents. Many times, the safest people are specifically mothers.
Expressing anger feels safer than grieving in other ways. It likely feels too raw for teens to express their feelings in more vulnerable ways. Remember, this is not personal.
You Will Feel Both Mad and Sad…A Lot
Being a parent is tough work. Being a divorced parent is, in many ways, tougher.
I wasn’t prepared for the pure grief of the situation. The nights crying until 2 a.m. Missing the day-to-day interactions that make up a life when my kids are staying with their dad. I wasn’t prepared for the worry that they might not process this change in their lives well, or that I wasn’t present enough for them.
The endless wonderings of – not if – but how I’ve ruined my children’s lives. The fear that they may never forgive me, or someday won’t understand. That the actions I’ve taken to protect myself and my healing and happiness are, in fact, detrimental to the two most important people in my life.
One of the best pieces of wisdom my therapist gave me as I started to navigate the divorce process was that children return to parents with whom they have a strong, healthy bond early in life.
I’ve heard over and over again from those who have gone before me that teens – that our kids – return to us. Let’s take a deep breath and square our shoulders and relax our muscles from head to toe.
Yes, this is a tough process. And yes, we are all going to be okay.