DEAR KELLY: I love both my parents, and they are getting a divorce. How to do I love and support both of them during what I know is going to be a horrible time in my life? I kind of feel it’s because my mom just freaks out sometimes and just yells at my dad and he’s a quiet, no-drama guy.
When I asked my dad if this was it, he said “No,” but I know it has to be because when she yells, it’s scary and everyone in my house hates it. She said she yells because she’s stressed out, but I say, won’t a divorce stress her out even more? Please help me.
DEAR MIDDLE MAN: Divorce stinks, no better way to say it. And unfortunately, it stinks the most for the children like you who feel caught and trapped in the middle. Being in the middle isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you aren’t asked to take sides or told to make tough choices that somehow align you with one or the other parent. In situations like this, your goal is to stay neutral and be respectful to both parents and have them show the same respect and neutrality back to you. Being neutral means not analyzing or blaming one particular parent for why they decided to split up. Divorce is hard on everyone and it’s important to remember that everyone in your family is hurting, so faulting one parent will not make you or them feel better.
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Don’t pick sides or align yourself with one parent. It should be easy to love and support them both – they are your parents and they are divorcing each other, not you. You are still their child and they both love you. Likewise, they are still your parents and you love and support them equally.
One of the best ways to support them both is to have good boundaries. What that looks like is for you to not bad-mouth either one of them or be the judge of their marital issues. You are part of their family, just not part of their marriage. A healthy boundary lets both parents know that they shouldn’t bad-mouth each other in front of you and you are not a “venting board” for them if the divorce gets sticky or complicated. Another good line to draw says that you are also not the communication middle between them. If they ask you to tell the other one something, your response is simple but firm, “If you wish to tell mom (or dad) that, you can do so yourself. I would rather not be the messenger.” Being in the middle isn’t a bad thing but being the middle man is.
Yes, divorce can be stressful. Your family will go through many changes as everyone shifts and readjusts when people end a marriage and one household becomes two. If your parents seem stressed, offer a hug, tell them you love them and tell them it’s hard to see them stressed or hurting. Don’t try to fix or solve their problems or be the conflict mediator/referee between them. If they put you in awkward situations, you can always say, “I don’t feel right in this situation. Please leave me out of this.”
Going through a divorce is a lot like going through a death. There are many feelings you or your parents may experience: anger, hurt, sadness, shock, exhaustion, loneliness or guilt. Since people go through these emotions at different times or in different ways, the family dynamics can feel overwhelming or stressful.
Make sure you have a good support system of friends to help you during this time and don’t be afraid to speak up if you need to talk with a professional.
Sometimes a divorce can make you feel like you have to put your life on hold to deal with your parents’ problems, but you need to continue live your life and do what you love to do. Write in a journal, go on a walk, draw or find a positive way to take care of yourself. Remember, put your oxygen mask on first. Taking care of you is important in situations like this.