Each year, thousands of New Hampshire teenagers experience their parents going through divorce or separation. Teens can be especially affected by a divorce, due to the fact that they may have strong attachments to both parents, may have developed their own opinions about the family unit, and may be beginning to explore relationships of their own during the challenging/confusing years of junior high and high school. As such, it is easy for teenagers to get disconnected from you during this transition - sometimes finding unhealthy ways to "cope" with the divorce - through choices they make both within and outside your home. If you proactively engage your kids in a sensitive, thoughtful, and age-appropriate dialogue, you will minimize the negative impact the divorce may have on their lives.
How To Begin The Difficult Dialogue
Below are five tips New Hampshire moms and dads can use to begin a discussion about divorce with their teen children:
Talking to Your Teens about Divorce - Tip 1:
Once you've decided to move forward with the divorce, you need to break the news to your kids. Talk with your spouse about where and when you would like to discuss the divorce with your children. Do it together, so that your children know that they are loved and supported by both of you. And don't drag your feet, as teenagers generally know when something is up.
It's also best to have "the talk" when you and your spouse are calm and have your emotions in check. While you may hold some negative feelings about your spouse and perhaps about the divorce itself, it isn't helpful for your teenagers to hear about them - instead, it just puts them in the middle.
Talking to Your Teens about Divorce - Tip 2:
During the talk, it's critical to assure your teenagers that the divorce is not their fault - that it's something that changed in your relationship with your spouse. Explain that even though your feelings for the other parent have changed, you aren't getting divorced from your kids - that you still love them and you'll still care for them as you did before.
Talking to Your Teens about Divorce - Tip 3:
Be prepared for different reactions to the information. Some teens may act like it's no big deal - they probably need time to absorb the information. Let them know that if they want to talk about it later, that's okay. Other kids may become emotional - crying, getting angry and accusatory, or getting anxious, frightened, and worried. Be reassuring that it's normal for them to have feelings. Be a good listener, and try to help them talk it through. Also, keep the door open and set up regular times to check in and reconnect with your kids in the days/weeks after sharing the information. This is the time in which they may be most vulnerable, so it's important to stay connected.
Talking to Your Teens about Divorce - Tip 4:
Be prepared to answer questions your teenagers will likely have about the divorce, including the nitty-gritty logistical things (and unexpected emotionally-charged questions) that you may not yet have thought through:
(1) Why are you getting divorced?
(2) Is one of you moving out of the house?
(3) Will we have to move?
(4) Where are we going to live?
(5) Will I have to change schools?
(6) What should I tell my friends?
(7) Do Grandma and Grandpa know?
(8) Whose fault is it?
Please note: It's critical to be honest with teenagers. If all of the living arrangements have not yet been worked out, acknowledge this. Explain how the details will be resolved - for example, "We're going to mediation to try to resolve it" or "The court will make a final decision." Don't try to pretend that you have all the answers if you don't have the answers, but be transparent about the process that will eventually lead to them.
Talking to Your Teens about Divorce - Tip 5:
Finally, it's important to enlist a talented divorce attorney to help you achieve the "custody" (now called "parental rights and responsibility") that you and your teenage children deserve. You will need to interview a few divorce attorneys and ask questions, including:
(1) How long has the divorce attorney been practicing family law in New Hampshire?
(2) Does the divorce lawyer primarily practice family law or is family law is just a small percentage of his or her practice?
(3) Has the divorce attorney had many parenting cases with teenagers involved?
(4) Does the divorce attorney explain how the teenager gets to express preferences as to where he or she lives?
(5) How can the divorce lawyer help you protect your teenage children's best interests?
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