If you’d like to be a teenager again, please raise your hand.
I didn’t think so. Being a teenager is, to say the least, challenging. Add an impending divorce to that complex equation and it can be an invitation for chaos.
Next question: were your parents divorced when you were a teenager? Were you surprised at their decision to end their marriage? Angry? Confused? Relieved? Sad? All of the above? And did you take sides?
I am not qualified to discuss the psychological impact divorce may likely have on your teenagers. Instead, I am going to address the life lessons you are teaching them by your example. And more specifically, what they are learning from you about conflict in relationships and how best they may be resolved.
Conflict exists, we all know that. Think back to when your kids were toddlers. Did they ever disagree with each other? Of course. Maybe they pinched, pushed, or hit each other until one (usually the younger) came crying to you. And what did you do? Did you tell them to knock it off? Did you send them each to a neutral corner? Did you tell them to apologize to each other and hug it out? These are all solutions to the immediate problem, and are certainly age-appropriate for your toddlers. However, now that your kids are teenagers, they are likely to be experiencing conflict not only with their siblings, but with their friends and possibly their teachers or other adults. So they come home to confide in you, only to see that you and their other parent are also in conflict. What are your kids witnessing?
Regardless of how mature your teenagers may seem, parents are the grown-ups. However tempting it may be to confide in your 15-year-old daughter about her dad’s misdeeds, in the long run those confidences may very well be inappropriate and irrelevant. Same goes for the father and son buddy-buddy talks about “women!” While your kids know more than you think, they don’t need to know everything.
Instead, try teaching them some mature, adult-like ways to resolve conflict. The word of the day here is compromise. The concept is not innate, it is learned, and it’s never too soon (nor too late) to reinforce this in your kids. Model the behavior for them. While mom and dad disagree on a lot of fundamental things, which is why they are getting a divorce, show them the benefit of compromise. Demonstrate how to let go of the things that ultimately don’t matter, and show them that, at the end of the day, you are all still a family. And will be one forever, regardless of your living situations.
Explain to your teenagers that it’s not always necessary to be right and to prove someone else wrong. Show them that compromising isn’t a form of weakness, but a sign of strength and intelligence.
And then, practice what you preach.