Being a teenager is tough, and sometimes it can be even harder when you’re dealing with divorced parents or watching them go through a divorce. As the second installment in my series, it is my hope that the following five steps will help families and children of divorce to deal with the changes they will encounter.
The following steps are specifically tailored toward teenagers, however, if you also read our other article, Dealing with Divorce as a Family: For Young Children, you might find some of the advice there could also be of help to you, no matter your age.
Feeling angry or disappointed with your parents for divorcing is natural. If the divorce is recent, it may be harder for you to understand how your parents could go through with it.
Don’t they know how it makes you feel knowing that they gave up on each other or fell out of love with each other? What’s going to happen to you and/or your siblings? Does your parent still love you even though they moved out?
These questions and feelings are common among children of divorce. And while no divorce is the same, you should know that whatever the circumstances, it wasn’t your fault.
Dealing with all the changes can be difficult. However, despite all the changes—the moves, the scheduling, and the new rules—it’s important to understand that this is difficult on everyone.
I do, however, understand that just “getting over it” or “getting used to” your parent’s divorce is not easy.
Personally, I remember nights where I would be completely overcome with a deep and literally breathtaking pain of sadness, anger, fear, and hurt because of my parents and their divorce.
You would think I would have been “used” to life with divorced parents by this time in my life since they divorced when I was three and it’s pretty much the only life I’ve ever known. But the pain and hurt never truly goes away, even as you get older and enter into adulthood.
The key, I learned, was that during these nights of pain and sadness, I would reach out to my Heavenly Father for help.
Even at my worst and most pain-filled moments—after getting into a fight with one or more of my parents, watching them fight with each other, and/or dealing with people moving away and separating my family by large distances—I could always lean on Him.
One night in particular, I was probably nineteen years old, the loneliness and anger felt particularly powerful and I realized I had been resenting my parents for making me feel this pain. I blamed them for putting me into situations I myself deemed ridiculous and unacceptable for a child, no matter how old I was, to deal with.
I then realized that that anger and resentment was holding me back from truly being able to fully love my parents. They say you never truly know Heavenly Father’s love for you until you go through the repentance process with Him, but I would like to add that the same is true for those who are able to forgive people who have wronged them.
That night, I asked the Lord for His help in taking away the resentment I felt for my parents. I asked him to take my anger from me and to fill the void with charity and love. I begged Him to help me become better than my trials and to be able to move forward, no longer holding old offenses against my parents.
I can honestly say, after saying one of the most sincere prayers in my life, I felt a literal weight come off my chest. All my problems weren’t solved and I knew there would still be days when my parents would make me cry, but I was determined to approach the future with a blank slate.
Past sins no longer mattered and, with Heavenly Fathers help, future trials would only be a bump in the road before I am able to move past them, continuously forgiving and wiping them from memory as I go.
While this path may not be the specific answer for you and your situation, I implore you to work with Heavenly Father concerning your feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment. Counsel with Him on how to deal with your emotions and communicate effectively with your parents. He will listen, but He will also help to give you answers.
I also found that reading this article could also help you understand how to let go of your bitterness towards your parents from a different perspective.
Step 2: Don’t Lose Faith in Marriage
Many people have asked me if I had reservations concerning marriage because of how my parents’ marriage ended up. The question always takes me by surprise. Marriages fail sometimes, and that’s a fact, but I refuse to believe that just because my parents didn’t work out I am somehow doomed to the same fate.
In fact, in my research concerning children of divorce and their future prospects in marriage, I ran across this article that I believe has some great insights into how children of divorce may in fact benefit from their experiences. It claims,
“Because they tend to mature more quickly and are more independent and because of their less idealized view of marriage, children of divorce tend to be more realistic, researchers have found. They are familiar with possible difficulties and may be more likely to enter a marriage relationship with their eyes open. This need not mean they are cynical or doubting, only that they are aware of the need for charity and cooperation in a marriage.”
–”Children of Divorce” August, 2002 Ensign
However, if you’re sincerely and terribly worried about your future in marriage, one possible path to take for comfort is to get your Patriarchal Blessing (if you haven’t already).
I’m not promising that the blessing will answer all your questions or solve all your problems, but when preparing to receive your patriarchal blessing, it sometimes helps to have a specific question you would like guidance with.
When I received mine, I did a lot of personal research about patriarchal blessings to try and better prepare myself to both know if I was ready to receive mine and how I should prepare to make myself worthy of receiving it.
When it came time to get my blessing, I wanted all my parents to be there, yes including my step-mom, because I wanted to share this extremely private yet important moment in my life with the people I was closest to.
And while I personally wasn’t concerned about marriage at the time, my blessing did mention it and a description of my future husband, for which my mom was extremely grateful. Apparently, she had been worried for me and my future in marriage and my blessing was able to assuage her stress.
Some sources you could use to prepare for this process are “Understanding Your Patriarchal Blessing” and “What a Patriarchal Blessing Can Do for You.” You may also want to consider an article from The New Era concerning how to prepare for marriage.
Step 3: Putting up With Things You Probably Shouldn’t Have To
Some hard things children of divorced parents end up having to deal with include: 1) “Choosing” a parent, 2) feelings of shame for being “just like your father” or “just like your mother,” 3) feeling like bringing up one parent in front of the other is somehow akin to swearing, 4) role reversal where your parents expect you to parent them, and 5) dealing with the “oversharing” of a parent(s).
Each of these things is difficult for anyone to deal with. However, the key to getting through these trials has already been brought up (are you noticing a pattern here?): strength in God.
You’re going to have to deal with a lot of things in life that might seem too heavy or premature for you to handle, divorce or no divorce. But if you go through these trials prayerfully there’s nothing you can’t do.
Be sure to keep an open line with God. Talk to Him about the good times as well as the bad, and ask Him for strength and comfort in getting through the tough times.
Also, just like I mentioned in my previous article, reach out to others for support. Friends, teachers, bishops, grandparents, you name it. These people are all there to help you through life, so it’s okay to lean on them once in a while.
Lastly, work on fostering an open and informal line of communication with your parents. Perhaps during family home evening, family council meetings, or private heart-to-heart moments, try to create an environment where you can talk to your parents about how it hurts you when they do or say “(Fill in the blank).”
If you don’t attempt to explain to them how they’re affecting you when they say or do certain things, how are they going to know they need to work on it?
Step 4: Step-Parents and Re-Marriage
When I was a teenager, I remember I would be doing the dishes—a chore I absolutely hated—and because I was angry about doing the dishes, I would find myself thinking up and creating arguments between me and my step-mom that we never had.
After I finally finished the dishes I would be in a totally different mindset than from when I started, and nothing even happened to make me justified in feeling so irritated and upset with her.
I was basically looking for a fight, gave myself one, then ended up being angry with my step-mom even though she literally didn’t do anything.
Needless to say, this is not healthy behavior, yet I’m sure you’ve experienced something like it too.
My biggest piece of advice here, aside from what has previously been said in this article, is that respecting your parents is a commandment for a reason. I came across an article about honoring your father and mother that pointed out,
“As a teenager, I had responsibilities to my parents and was to be patient with them as I expected them to be patient and understanding with me.”
This statement struck me when I read it. Some might feel like my writing is making divorced parents out to be the bad guys, when in fact the main point I’m trying to teach here is that parents are human.
They make mistakes and learn through trial and error just like the rest of us. And while some of those mistakes may have heavy repercussions, it is our duty as their children to understand and have patience with them just like we think they should have with us.
And just like it is essential we respect our heavenly parents, our earthly parents need to be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what their sins may be. Why? Because they’re your parents, they love you, you are a part of them, and there is wisdom in this commandment.
Some ways to show respect is to keep your attitude in check during the times you feel it coming out a little too freely in the heat of the moment. Sometimes your tone or ungrateful behavior can hurt your parents’ feelings just like it would if they did the same to you.
Stop, think about what you say before you say it, and make sure it’s something you would be comfortable saying to your Heavenly Father before letting it loose. The same is to be said about our thoughts.
When you’re angry it may be hard to control, but swearing at your parents in your head is just as disrespectful as if you said it out loud. You may think nobody hears it, but your Heavenly Father definitely does.
Step 5: Have Faith in Yourself
Young adults who have successfully dealt with the challenges of their parents’ divorce frequently show great spiritual growth. The difficulties they have faced often have taught them of their dependence on the Lord and their need for spiritual guidance.
The above quote came from the same article that discussed how children of divorce may be more prepared for marriage than you may have thought. It was one of my favorite articles to read because it made me, a child of divorce, feel empowered by my trials.
I’ve spoken with peers who have mentioned that they were counseled to avoid marrying children of divorce because they were somehow damaged and unsafe in the arena of marriage.
When people asked me if I was afraid or skeptical of marriage, I imagine their line of thinking was along the same lines. People see being a child of divorce as something of a detriment, yet, the best metals are forged in the hottest of fires.
Your trials and challenges are what make you stronger. You’ve learned from your experiences how to come closer to God, how to rely on Him, and you’ve come to understand how you receive personal revelation from Him.
These are valuable skills you have learned that will help you immensely in the trials you have yet to encounter. Gaining a greater testimony in any aspect of the gospel is a weapon in your arsenal against Satan and the future trials that may cause you to doubt yourself.
You’re not damaged goods, and you’re not defined by your parents’ mistakes, just like we are not condemned for Adam’s decision to leave the Garden of Eden. We all have the gift of free will.
Don’t let your trials or other people tell you your worth or your spiritual strength. Go out there and find those things out for yourself with God by your side.
I wish you all the luck in navigating the difficulties of divorce, but I also would like to encourage you to know and understand that you are not alone and that you are loved.