Following the divorce or separation of your parents, your relationship with them may feel distant or strained. It may be the case that you have been angry with them and have intentionally avoided them causing your relationship to suffer. They might be busy with adjusting to a new life away from your other parent and not be spending time with you. You may both be avoiding one another because you don’t know what to say, or maybe you’re afraid that you’ll hurt your parents’ feelings if you tell them what you’re really thinking.
Whether you admit it or not, most children instinctively desire to protect their parents. No matter how wrong you might think they were to get divorced in the first place, you may be reluctant to share the emotions and troubles you have for fear of making things worse for them.
On the other hand, if your parents are divorced or separated, you are likely experiencing some emotions you have never felt before or never felt quite this intensely. Many of the articles and resources on this site are designed to help you process those emotions and understand and deal with them better.
That said, you still need someone to talk to about your emotions. Just the process of naming your emotions and talking about your struggles is an important first step in overcoming them. The person you talk to may be a friend or a trusted adult, but sometimes the person you really need to talk to is your parent. It may be scary or uncomfortable, but in the long-term you will both benefit from having the conversation.
Here are some guidelines for how to talk to your parents about emotions or other things that may be bothering you:
- Plan your conversation ahead of time. Pick a time and a place where both you and your parent will have plenty of time to discuss whatever comes up and can be comfortable and relaxed.
- Agree with your parent ahead of time that you will both try not to take things personally. When you fail at that during your conversation (and you probably will), resolve to forgive one another, move on and not let it derail the conversation.
- Always be respectful to your parents. They don’t always deserve it, but make the choice on your end to speak in respectful tones and use respectful words. The key to the conversation is mutual understanding, and respect goes a long way towards that. Be respectful even when the other person isn’t.
- Explain to your parents what you are looking for up front. If you just want to share what you’re going through and you’re not really looking for any advice, tell them that. If you want them to help you find a solution or give you permission to do something, share that too. It will help them to know exactly what you are expecting.
- Do not go into your meeting or conversation with a hidden agenda. Do not “read into” what they are saying or assume that you know what your parents are thinking or feeling.
- Be clear and direct in your conversation. Sometimes you don’t fully understand what you are feeling or going through and you have explore that a little bit in order to explain it, but where you can, try to be very clear with your parents. Don’t leave it to them to try to “figure out” what you mean.
- Agree not to interrupt one another. Listen when your parent is talking and try to understand what they are saying in the same way that you want them to do the same for you.
- Resist the urge to argue. You may disagree with your parent, and they may disagree with you. That’s ok. The purpose of this conversation is to talk to one another and try to understand each other’s point of view.
- Be honest. Once you’ve gotten past the initial discomfort of having this conversation, why muddy the waters by not being completely honest. Tell your parents honestly what you are feeling and going through. Please remember though that honesty is not an excuse to be mean or disrespectful.
- Try to focus on your feelings and experiences without placing blame on the other person. For example, use the formula, “I feel ____ when you _____.” That will work a lot better, and help your parent be less defensive than saying, “I hate it when you ______.”
Hopefully these tips will help you to have those important, but sometimes uncomfortable, conversations with your parents following their separation or divorce.