10 tips on managing your parents’ divorce

With the new year upon us, it’s commonly known as a time for change. We’re all incredibly familiar (and slightly bored) with the whole ‘New year, New me’ vibe. However, once the Christmas tree is packed away and the festive wreath is off the front door the extended Christmas break can provide much-needed space to go from contemplating a change to finally taking action.

Next week, I’ll be speaking on this topic on BBC Radio 4’s woman’s hour, I’ll be sharing tips and my model for ‘managing your parents’ difficult divorce’. I do hope you can join me.  

In this article, I provide tips on managing your parents divorce including tips for adults whose parents are separating and tips for parents of children (of all ages!).

Typically, January is a popular time for separation and divorce and while declaring divorce is not exactly the most cheerful way to ring in the new year, solicitors often see a spike in their services and as a therapist, I see a similar pattern too.

10 TIPS FOR ADULTS WHOSE PARENTS ARE SEPARATING

As an adult, these tips will help you manage your parents’ divorce. Do contact me or leave a comment if you have any to add. 

  1. Set boundaries by requesting your parents not to ask you to pick sides. Be careful with this one, as they may agree but their behaviour may be inconsistent with their words.
  2. It’s helpful to consider if your parent(s) can be vindictive, angry, or just unnecessarily difficult. If so, brace yourself for impact – it’s likely to get ugly and it will benefit you to consider ways to protect yourself from their mess.
  3. Watch out for parental alienation. This is when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation and abuse.
  4. Remember divorce is generally not amicable and we should expect discomfort, distress and low mood. This extends to your parents, siblings, and you.
  5. Anytime a relationship changes, it’s helpful to reconsider your personal boundaries and this is especially true when parents’ divorce.
  6. Consider if you’d benefit from therapy or if your family may benefit from mediation or family therapy not to repair the relationship, but to help navigate having difficult conversations.
  7. Watch out for parents that overshare! Don’t play therapist, friend, or confidant. Encourage them to get the right type of help.
  8. Notice any unhelpful changes in your behaviour. Are any of your vices kicking in? Watch out for self-sabotage, neglect, or addictive behaviours. If you still live with your parents, do consider what safe spaces you have, if any. At times you may need to get away, especially if it’s a toxic environment. Jot down any questions you have about future arrangements as the financial implication of their divorce is likely to have an impact on you.
  9. People forget and underestimate that teens and adults can find it especially hard when their parent’s divorce. It’s ok to be devasted, down and distressed so don’t let anyone talk you out of your feelings. Accept how you feel, as suppression of feelings can fuel self-sabotaging behaviours.
  10. Endeavour to be assertive and shut down unhelpful conversations about the other parent. Let your parents know you will be supportive but won’t take sides or act as a go-between.

Take good care of yourself. Yes, it’s a tough time, no doubt about that. But try not to isolate yourself, eat, sleep and exercise and if possible, build a support network around you. Your children should not have to worry about you neglecting yourself.

10 TIPS FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN (OF ALL AGES) DURING SEPARATION 

It’s tricky for all children, no matter what their age when it comes to managing their parents’ divorce. These tips will help with the transition.

  1. Endeavour to not criticise your former partner in front of the children.
  2. Don’t quiz the children about your ex or their new partner (if they have one).
  3. Reassure the children that they’re loved – the adult ones need to hear that too!
  4. Try as best you can to accommodate visitation – which may not be easy depending on the relationship dynamics.
  5. Your child is not your caretaker, so don’t let them look after you. At worst, it can lead to emotional incest which is a dynamic that occurs where the parent seeks emotional support through their child that should be sought through an adult relationship. In the long run, it results in children neglecting their emotional needs and disproportionally focusing on the needs of their parents. By the time they get to adulthood, they’re likely to end up in one-way relationships.
  6. If possible, don’t uproot the children and try to create stability.
  7. Minimise the child’s exposure to fighting, try to make sure they’re out of earshot and remember kids love to listen to walls.
  8. If possible, try to maintain routines and consistency. Stability is good for kids. If change is inevitable, get the children to come up with ideas on how to do things differently.
  9. Seek out books and learning materials on divorce to help strike up a conversation with your children.
  10. Take good care of yourself. Yes, it’s a tough time, no doubt about that. But try not to isolate yourself, eat, sleep and exercise and if possible, build a support network around you. Your children should not have to worry about you neglecting yourself.

Keeley Taverner is a well-respected psychotherapist, author and coach. If you have been inspired by this article or would like to interview Keeley for your publications, please do get in touch.