The Effect of Divorce on Adolescent-Parent Communication

The Effect of Divorce on Adolescent-Parent Communication

The Effect of Divorce on Adolescent-Parent Communication

Recently, I came across a fascinating article by Canadian mental health advocate and Huffington Post writer Patricia Tomasi and felt compelled to write to her about this concept of whether teens whose parents divorce are affected in the ways that they communicate with their parents. (There’s lots of great research in the article, so check it out!)

I wrote to Patricia, and I am awaiting her response. I’ll include it in a future blog when I hear from her.

In a nutshell, the research suggests that post-divorce, especially daughters experience difficulty communicating with their fathers. This makes sense to me, and here’s why.

Fathers often rely on mothers to serve as buffers between them and the children. In a two-parent home, fathers often spend less time with the children, or take less time to understand their children on a personal level, relying on their wives to do that important work for them.

It’s a problem, definitely! And especially when research reveals that children often unconsciously learn how to have relationships based on the relationship they have with their opposite sex parent. So if a daughter has trouble talking with her dad post-divorce, this can have immense repercussions on a variety of levels.

In our society, many men still discount what women and girls have to say, which inspires a trickle-down effect that fathers may play out unknowingly with their daughters. Discounting feelings, not considering a daughter’s needs that may be different from their own, and other unconscious behaviors create long-term negative effects – which become glaring when the buffer of a mother’s love and understanding are removed from the family relationship.
It’s become more common to aim for equal parenting time for mothers and fathers in divorces, and I’m happy to see many fathers stepping up, becoming more involved and more attentive post-divorce when it’s all on them.

There are many fathers, however, who continue with the status quo, and if children are with them half the time, that’s a problem.

I’d love it if we could have automatic reviews of the parenting time schedule, like we do with child support. In Michigan, every three years, the Friend of the Court reviews the child support amounts at no cost to the parents, and makes adjustments as needed.

However, if a parent wants to change parenting time, and the other parent does not agree, they must file a motion with the court and meet difficult legal standards.

It’s a costly, arduous process which most often yields no change, and pits parents against one another in an adversarial process. That ill will does not help the co-parenting relationship, and it does children a disservice.
Ultimately, I believe divorce should be an ever-evolving situation where we take stock and amend the parameters on a regular basis for everyone’s benefit. That way, children and adolescents can ease into new relationships with both parents at a pace that is measured, reasonable and comfortable for them.

We want children to have good, healthy, communicative relationships with both parents. What is the best way we can assure this happens?

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Even in the worst of marriages, we try. We work on the relationship. We offer to go to counseling. We try to hear our partner’s viewpoint. We have compassion. We work and we work and we work on getting along, on finding common ground, on seeing the other side.

When we split up, our relationship is frozen in time. There’s no more work, no more understanding the other person. No more attempt, even, to see from their perspective.

And since many divorced couples are still intertwined through their children, that’s not such a good thing.

In marriage, we find ways to compromise when we are in situations we don’t like. I give, you give, and we meet somewhere in the middle.

A divorce freezes us in the stagnant place of how we used to be, even as we, as individuals, progress and develop and become better in every other area of our lives. In this relationship, we stay stuck.

That makes divorce more challenging than it already is!

Is there any alternative? Is it unreasonable to think there are things we can do to better that post-divorce relationship? It is a different relationship, after all.

Recently, a couple that had been divorced for seven years met for coffee to discuss some parenting time planning. It was the first time since their divorce that they finally had a tenable peace to allow it to happen.

It is never too late. We must be realistic: it takes time to cool off, but down the road, what can you do to help that relationship?

You’re not married anymore. You can’t change parenting styles even as you continue to co-parent. At a certain point, you have to let go of the need to control and realize that there will always be areas where you need to connect and it IS worthwhile to work on the relationship in whatever way you can muster.

I love this compelling blog by Jackie Pilossoph in the Huffington Post about melting away all the bitterness and hatred for her ex when their son was rushed to the ER with a head injury. “The incident brings you back to what is truly important in life, and it makes you realize that the pettiness and the hate and the anger are a waste,” she writes.

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