If your parents get divorced or are separated, there are likely to be several changes in your family life. Divorce is defined as ‘the ending of a marriage by a legal process’. A separation might have the same effects as a divorce, or it might be more temporary. But none of this describes the roller-coaster of emotions you might go through as a result of divorce, separation, or other family changes. As you know, a roller-coaster goes up and down, round and round, and even upside down. At times, it might feel as though your world has been turned upside down.
You could experience changes such as a new setup at home, a different house, or a new school away from your friends. You might feel you have no control over your life. During this time, you could feel any of the following emotions: anger, sadness, guilt, fear, frustration, loss, and pain. It is completely okay to have these feelings, and it is okay to cry – in fact, crying can be good for you! Emotional tears contain stress hormones; when you cry, you are literally releasing your stress.
When going through any big change, it is important to feel connected to other people. Find someone to talk to – this could be a friend or an online support service (such as Childline or Samaritans). It might help to talk to someone who has gone through a similar experience. At this time, your friendships are very important, as they might be a great source of comfort to you.
You need to remember that you are important! How you feel matters! This might be a very confusing time for you. You might not feel like talking to your parents at the moment, but if you have thoughts or questions for them, it is worth communicating these. You could try writing them down. Write a letter to your parents, asking your questions and letting them know what you would like to happen. Sometimes this is easier than asking them face to face. Alternatively, you could write your worries down and hand them over to a friend. Ask them to pretend to be you and to read your concerns back to you. What advice would you give them? Sometimes it is easier to advise someone else; see if you can come up with something that could help.
You could also consider keeping a mood journal, tracking how you feel every day. Keep a record of your emotions and ask yourself: what makes you feel that way? What makes you feel better? If you enjoy drawing, use this as a way to express your emotions. Do you feel as though you are on a rollercoaster? Why not draw one, and track your ups and downs? If you are musical, use this as a way to show how you feel. Listen to music that you think really reflects how you’re feeling right now, or on the other hand, listen to music that you know will get you in a good mood.
The following list has some examples of advice from kids to their parents who have divorced or separated. See if there is something here that you would like your parents to know. Again, if you feel it would be too hard to say it to them, write it down and show it to them:
- “You chose to get divorced or separated – I didn’t. Your ex is still my other parent. Please don’t put me in the middle, make me choose sides, or use me as a pawn to be negotiated over.”
- “I still need you to be there for me, to care about what’s going on in my life, to come to my school parent-teacher evenings, to be a parent to me, even though I know things are hard for you.”
- “Don’t assume I’m automatically going to love any new person you go out with. And they are not in a position to tell me off, just because they are going out with you. They haven’t known me long enough to have that right.”
- “Don’t tell me I’m being dramatic about how I’m feeling. I’m allowed to feel angry and upset.”
- “Please find a way to be together in the same room, so that we can still celebrate some things together. I might want to get married one day, and I would like to know that you will both be there at my wedding.”
- “When discussing whose turn it is to have me for the weekend, please don’t make me feel like a project that needs to be managed. Ask me what I want.”
- “Don’t use your sadness or bitterness to tell me about relationships. My friends (or girlfriends or boyfriends) are really important to me, so please don’t criticise them.”
- “Don’t insult or make fun of the gifts I receive from my other parent. Don’t insult the things I like, enjoy, or am proud of. It makes you look petty, and it makes me sad.”
It is important to know that divorce or separation is never your fault! This really should be emphasised, because kids can often blame themselves for their parents splitting up. Try to avoid “what ifs” such as “what if I’d tidied my room more, maybe they wouldn’t have argued so much”.
Big changes in life such as divorce and separation can’t be avoided, and it always takes time to adapt. If you’re currently feeling angry or sad, it can be hard to imagine that one day you won’t feel this way. It’s difficult to imagine a time when you might feel “normal” again. But as a part of the changes you are going through, you might have to get used to a new “normal”. While realising that it is okay to feel sad or hurt or angry, it can also help us to focus on any positives that might have come out of the divorce or separation.
This might seem impossible at first, but think about it…were your parents always arguing? Does home seem like a calmer place now that one of your parents has moved out? Is anything better now they are apart? If you have to move school, what does the new school have to offer that the previous school didn’t have? Have you made new friendships as a consequence of these changes? Have you learned to be more independent? Have you gained new family members such as step-siblings who are really important to you?
This will seem like a difficult and challenging time for a while, with many ups and downs. But these will eventually even out. Roller-coaster rides always come to an end!
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!