The Big Parental Split

Maybe it would be a stretch to say girls’ lives return to normal after divorce, but usually things do, well, a new sort of normal.

Sometimes, promises made in the throes of a divorce by well-meaning folks never seem to materialize. The improvements you desperately hoped for aren’t happening! It’s even possible that your parents seem to be getting on just fine with their lives while you, on the other hand, are watching from the sidelines—still feeling nothing but sad.

If any of theses scenarios sound familiar, you’re hardly alone. Many girls’ problems linger on well after their parents’ divorce is ancient news. Maybe reading about real girls telling their own stories will assure you that you’re coping about as well as you can. Hopefully, you’ll learn a tip or two to improve your own situation.

“My Dad’s Gone.”
Hillary, 13, is the youngest of three daughters whose parents divorced when she was 7. Since her older sisters are in college, she’s the only one living at home with her mom.

Says Hillary, “Dad said he was divorcing Mom, not me, which made me feel slightly better. But after about a year, he moved clear across the country. Then he got remarried and has two new children. It’s like he’s completely forgotten he ever had me.”

It’s been six years since she lived with him, and now she only sees him once a year. “Last summer,” she says, “it didn’t work out for me to visit, so it’s been a really long time since we hung out. I’ve changed so much, he doesn’t even know me anymore.”

She tried writing to her dad and asking him to call. Sometimes he did; sometimes not. As Hillary puts it, “It got to be torture waiting to see if he’d call.”

Then Hillary decided it would be better for her to call him. Sometimes, it was fine,” she says. “But other times, he’d be really rushed because one of his kids would be crying. Or he wouldn’t be home, and I’d feel really dumb talking to his wife. Finally, I got sick of it and decided not to talk to my dad at all.”

When Hillary’s grades took a nosedive, her mom found a social worker who helps kids cope with divorce. Hillary realized the situation was not her fault. Neither a perfectly worded letter nor the most stellar report card would bring back the dad she had before the divorce.

With her counselor’s help, Hillary wrote a letter to her father describing how she felt. She explained to her father how important he was to her and how much she missed him. Her letter didn’t come off angry or accusatory. She asked her dad for suggestions on how they could be closer. Hillary was thrilled when her father told her it would be easier for him to keep in touch through e-mail—an arrangement that work for both of them.

Are things perfect for Hillary? Not nearly. It takes a lot of effort to stay in touch, and it’s not the same as it was. “But at least we figured out a way to talk,” she says. “I feel closer to him, and I’m planning another visit.”

“I Miss My Friends!”
Like Hillary Maya wanted to spend time with both parents. So for the last eight years, she spent every other weekend at her dad’s house, a two-hour drive away. But now, Maya has second thoughts about the schedule: “It’s not that I don’t want to see my dad, but I have a life. I hate missing out on what my friends are doing on weekends.”

When her environment club held recycling day, Maya called her dad and asked if she could stay with her mom that weekend. “He was disappointed, but he understood,” she says. “But the next time I asked to bail on him so I could go to a dance, he acted upset.”

Maya loved counting on the every-other-weekend visitation when she was younger. But now that she’s a teenager, she wants breathing room. “I want to see my dad,” she says, “but I don’t want to blow off my social life.” Maya admits this problem made her feel angry all over again over her parents’ divorce. Then she spoke to her aunt, who helped her come up with some possible solutions:

1 Spend one day with one parent and one day with the other parent when there is a special event. That way, she doesn’t have to cancel for the whole weekend.
2 Get friend time in by bringing buds to spend the weekend at her dad’s house.
3 Plan a weekend away with her dad, and ask a friend to come along.
Invite her father to join in when something is going on Maya doesn’t want to miss, like a soccer game or science fair.

Not all of these ideas will work for you. But if your visitation schedule isn’t cutting it, you and your folks should go back to the drawing board. Think creatively. What are your needs, and how can your folks accommodate them? All of you may need to be more flexible.

But there’s a difference between being flexible and not making firm plans. A parent probably won’t take well to vague ideas (“We’ll get together sometime, Mom!”) or last-minute cancellations on the answering machine (“Uh, I’m not going to make it this weekend, Dad.”). Be considerate, and the ‘rents may be agreeable to change.

“Take My Step-parent!”
There are tons of reasons a parent’s choice of a new mate may not be your idea of a good thing. Maybe it’s too soon after, you’re just not clicking with the person, or the step-something is intruding on your relationship with your mom or dad.

You may feel like Naima, 12, who says being around her stepfather can be like having a pebble in one her Stevie’s. “He’s so annoying!” she complains. “He’s always trying to be ‘helpful.’”

For a long time, she kept wishing he’d just go away. She figured if she ignored her stepfather, the situation would vamoose. But years later, Naima and her stepfather were still like oil and water.

First step in making things better was for Naima to figure out what exactly was ticking her off. Being brutally honest with herself, she realized it wasn’t fair to blame her stepfather for her parents’ divorce. Naima decided what got to her was the way he jumped in the middle of discussions and conflicts between her and her mom.

Naima resisted the urge to run to her mom. Instead, Naima talked with her stepfather directly. She said she wanted everyone to get along and thanked him for trying to help, asking him to let her and her mom work things out alone. “He was cool and said I might need to remind him if he forgets.” Just the fact that her stepfather took her seriously made Naima feel better. “I don’t think I’ll ever be close to him, but that’s OK as long as we get along.”

Like any relationship, one with a step-parent needs work. If there’s conflict, talk it through. Find a good time, and speak clearly, directly and positively. Rather than contemplating, maturely explain what you’d like to happen differently.

Remember that only you and the stepparent can work at your relationship, so try to keep it between the two of you. Improvement may take time, but keep at it. The peace and good feelings that result will be well worth it.

“When Will I Feel Better?”
Everybody says the worst should be over. Your parents’ divorce was long ago, but for you it still feels practically new. In short, you’re sick of feeling sad.

This was Bethany’s exact situation. At 13, she wanted to forget about the divorce and be happy like all her friends seemed to be. So what did she do about it?

First, Bethany tried not to focus so much on the divorce. She made a list of the activities she enjoys and tried to do at least one of those things every day, especially whenever she felt upset. Bethany also reminded herself that things could always be way worse: “Sometimes, I think about my friend whose father was killed last year, and it makes me see how fortunate I am.”

Bethany wisely worked on having the best relationship she possibly could with each of her parents. A recent government study shows that, contrary to what you might think, your life is not automatically ruined by your parents’ divorce. Kids whose parents divorce can and do form close relationships when they get older.

Bethany courageously opened up to her best friend and found out that they shared many of the same feelings. When she learned that her friends sees a counselor and that it is helpful, Bethany asked her mom if she could see one, too.

If you still don’t feel better after taking positive steps, you may want to talk to someone specially trained to help kids cope with the feelings and problems of divorce. This is not your fault, and it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Everyone needs help at times.

Although picture-perfect relationships and families are only for Hollywood, you do have the power to cope with the fallout of your parents’ divorce. Hey, you might even get happier and feel better about yourself along the way. Really!

By: Roni Cohen-Sandler


3/3/2010 11:30:00 AM
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