A Guest Post By Naomi Woodford
I was 18 years old when my parents divorced. I knew it was on the cards, it had been for many years and instead of feeling sad they had finally parted, I was so relieved my Mum had finally left my Father. I felt like I could breathe again.
From the age of 14, I remember begging my Mum to leave him. I could list a million reasons now to help you understand why I felt this way. He had a temper, would make mess in the house specifically for us to clear up, he only purchased essential, basic items for us, however, did not hesitate to spend a fortune on purchasing luxuries for himself. He was lazy and self-serving.
That is how I saw it – my perception. Looking back now, he was an emotional abuser, especially to our Mum and in the process, made me feel like we had to earn our keep for him to acknowledge our existence. We simply survived our childhood but having each other made it bearable and, at times, I was happy. And best of all, we had our Mum. She was my best friend, and I was hers.
It was difficult for her though. She had the 6 of us to take care of and being that she was so submissive, she struggled to even contemplate the idea of leaving, let alone seeking the resources to go. When my Grandparents died within 15 months of each other, and my Mum received some inheritance, she had the money to be able to support us outside of the family home. We were devastated at the loss of my Grandparents, such kind and wonderful people, but with their passing, came a new sense of freedom. This is it! We can finally leave!
Unfortunately, it took my Mum a further 3 years to finally pluck up the courage to end their relationship. During this time, I moved out to our newly bought home and stayed there on my own at the age of 16. My Mum would come back and forth with food and necessities I needed. I got the house ready and sorted my sibling’s bedrooms out. I took my G.C.S.E.’s and somehow, I passed them all with surprisingly good grades. I learnt to drive which helped my Mum even further in ferrying about my younger siblings. I got a part time job and, in all intents and purposes, stepped into the role of ‘second mum’.
Although as I write this, I realise how difficult my childhood may seem, I don’t regret any of it. My experiences have built me into the person that I am today and, as cliched as it may sound, I have grown through the pain. Now, the torment and the hurt have become a motivating factor for me.
Although my childhood was far from ideal, it taught me what I did not want for my own children. It also carved the way to fulfil my purpose in life – helping others being my prime core value. I have worked with teenagers for many years now – supporting them with their mental health and wellbeing, mentoring them and providing positive reinforcement for their aspirations. I recognise my ‘teen self’ in them, even after all these years.
Alongside my own personal experiences and my knowledge from working with these inspiring young adults, I want to share with you some insights that I know your teenagers would wish you to know.
Do Not Assume Anything
Young people say to me ‘I can’t tell Mum and/or Dad about this because I don’t want to worry them.’ I always respond by reinforcing the idea that a parent worrying about their child is natural – it is part of their job as a parent – but that this doesn’t mean that they don’t want to know. Sometimes as parents, we just need to let them know that you are there for them, that you are available for them emotionally. It could be saying something as simple and as literal as: ‘I am here for you to talk to.’
Left in the Dark
Young people can often feel left in the dark in terms of the access arrangements and this can lead to them feeling anxious and without a routine. If you don’t know what is happening in advance or there is no established routine, try to figure one out and reassure your teen that as soon as you know what is happening, they will too.
This can be very tricky in some cases, whereas parents we may blame the other for the breakdown of the relationship. We may want to scream from the rooftops as to what your ex did to hurt you, why it is their fault and run them down. I get it. But this the worst thing you can do. Do not slate your ex to your child or in front of them. Your truth and perception of what has happened will differ in some cases to your own. Let your teen know the truth of the breakdown where appropriate. This does not mean lay it all out on the table as you see it – limit the details accordingly. Treat them with the respect they deserve.
Please Do Not Make Me The Messenger!
I hear this a lot too. Keep communication between the both of you, as the adults and the responsible parents. Your teen does not need to know what is being said and they certainly don’t want to be accountable for passing messages on, good or bad and acting as a ‘go between.’
I Want You to Share An Experience With Me
Many children forget that we were teenagers once upon a time! They forget we went through the usual teenage angsts and had experiences that we have learnt ourselves. Share a memory, an insight that you feel would help them to connect with you. It does not have to be a painful one, a funny story will do. Keep it light. Instantly, you become more relatable to them.
Do Not Be Offended If I Do Not Talk To You
We all need an outlet and a way of venting our internalised thoughts. However, some teenagers simply will not want to talk to you about anything, even if it is as trivial as telling you how their day went! Some teenagers simply do not want to talk to you about anything! Sometimes it can be hard to know if their silence is a typical teenage response or is there is something more that is bothering them. Just make yourself available. Let them know that you are there to talk to and that if they would prefer to speak to someone else, this is ok too. They want to know that they will not upset you and usually, this permission they often feel they need to have from you, is enough to know that it is ok.
Parenting is no easy feat. This is especially the case when we are going through a life changing event, such a divorce. Whatever your circumstances, communication is key. You do not have to be perfect – your son/daughter doesn’t expect you to be but reassure them that you will get through this difficult time together.
About the author
Naomi Woodford is a Divorce Recovery Coach, who helps women to strengthen their self worth, manage stress/anxiety and move on to the next chapter with confidence.