When my ex-husband and I announced we’d be separating, our three kids had three different reactions. Of course, part of these was because they are three different people, but I think some of was due to their different ages. They were all heartbroken, yes, but it hit my teenager the hardest, I could tell.
After the initial shock of the situation wore off, he returned to his normal self a little bit too quickly. He didn’t want to talk about it. He said it really didn’t affect him and he was fine with the change, but as his mother, I knew better. I could see the signs he was hurting even if he wasn’t able to verbalize what was going on inside his head- I don’t even think he fully understood it.
I was warned it might be harder on my teenager that it would be on my 10 and 11-year-old. A friend told me teens were at a higher risk for anxiety and depression after hearing of their parent’s divorce than tweens or younger kids were.
My son was telling me he was fine, but what was really happening was he was stuffing his feelings. And so, he was trying to show everyone he was fine, but of course it was affecting him- it affects everyone involved. Just because teens are older, more mature, and have a social life that feels more important than their home life, doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting and deeply saddened by what their family is going through.
As hard as my ex-husband and I have worked to make things bearable for our children, they still aren’t okay all of the time. And while I do believe our current situation is better for our family than my ex and I living under the same roof- an unhappy marriage can have harmful effects on children, too, it doesn’t mean I am exempt from watching out for signs they are in distress just because they assure me they are “doing just fine.”
And for us, our oldest (who is 14), is struggling the most. It’s evident in his school work, and his overall attitude. My highest priority right now is on my kids, and while the change has not been detrimental to any of them, and they seem happy most of the time, I want to stay on top of it.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, we all wear a mask sometimes and it seems teens do more of that than younger kids in cases like this.
I spoke with Julia Colangelo, a Licensed Clinical Psychotherapist, about how divorce can affect older kids, and she confirmed what I had heard from a friend was true in some cases: that it can have more of an impact on older kids.
Some of the reasons being: “One main effect is that teens or young adults have adjusted to the vision of their family as an ‘intact family’ and when this reality is suddenly or gradually shifted once they have identified as ‘a kid with one home and married parents’ to a ‘young adult with divorced parents’ it can bring up feelings of shame and doubt,” Colangelo says.
Things to look out for in all your children, but especially older kids, is withdrawal from activities they used to love to do, or from the family. Colangelo says kids might start to avoid family time when they can and that ” with college students, this may manifest in not coming home for holidays or winter/spring breaks because they ‘don’t want to deal.’ Sometimes also an over dependence on the parents and becoming caregivers to one or both parents separately can exacerbate these symptoms of depression and hopelessness,” she says.
Colangelo says the best way for parents to help their children deal with divorce is to communicate with them, and let them know there is help available and offer to let them talk with a therapist or counselor.
She also emphasizes the fact that just because teens and our children who are in their 20s are older, they still need honesty and reassurance this situation is not their fault.
It’s also important for you to acknowledge this does, in fact, have a huge impact on their life and it wasn’t in the plan without over explaining yourself, or getting into too many details about why your marriage is ending.
Divorce can lead to so many unknowns, but I was thankful that I had a little bit of foresight about how my older child may deal with it- it has helped us tremendously.