DR. WALLACE: Last year, my husband and I and our two teens were one happy family. Since then, my world has collapsed all around me. My husband and his secretary told me one night they were in love and he would be moving out and filing for a divorce within a week.
I remember you wrote in your column some time ago about teens and divorce. Even though I never thought I would be a divorced parent, it appears I need that information now. Is it possible that you could reprint the tips you gathered from professional psychologists over the years? — Dealing With our New Reality, via email
DEALING WITH OUR NEW REALITY: Of course. I’m happy to provide this information to you and any other families that can benefit from this list.
Here some tips from a child’s perspective on how the divorced couple can ease their children’s pain during or after this devastating event:
No. 1: Don’t put me in the middle. If you need to talk to each other, please do it in my absence, and not through me. I don’t ever want to carry messages back and forth between you.
No. 2: Please, please, please don’t make me take sides. You may not have a husband/wife anymore, but I still have a mom/dad. Whenever possible, please do your best to tell me something positive about my other parent. You’d want me to hear that about you, wouldn’t you?
No. 3: Unless there is an abusive situation, allow me to have access to both parents without restrictions or smug facial expressions. Please also take my access to see you into account when you are deciding where to live.
No. 4: The better you can get along with each other, the better I will be able to cope with the divorce. I know it is very hard on you, but it is absolutely brutal and depressing for me, too.
No. 5: Ask me often how I’m doing and what I need. Even though you are going through your own loss, I need help talking about what’s going on.
No. 6: Try to keep everything else in my life the same. It is stressful enough to lose a parent to divorce, but it’s even tougher to move to a different school, a new neighborhood or a new home — especially with short notice. Don’t forget I have a huge support network of good friends that I could use now more than ever.
No. 7: Remember that I am your child. Although you have gone through a divorce, my role is not to be a friend to commiserate with. Continue to treat me as your child, and stay in your role as my parent.
No. 8: If you need to talk to somebody about what you are going through, please take the time to find a friend or a therapist. It is too much for me to carry your burden as well. I am dealing with my own issues, and there are obviously many issues you adults are dealing with that I do not presently have the life experience to understand.
No. 9: No matter what my age is, this is still a loss for me — a huge, life-altering loss. I may show my grief in many different ways, including anger, depression, anxiety or acting out. Please keep an eye on my moods, and get me help if I am having difficulty.
No. 10: I long for continuity, routine and tradition. Although our family has changed, please maintain as many traditions and routines as possible. I know things will never return to the normal we all experienced previously, but it will help me tremendously if we can maintain part of the traditions we used to share together as a family and remember that we will always be family.