Questions that Children often Ask about Dealing with Their Parents' Divorce
Robert Hughes, Jr., Ph.D., Former Professor, Department of Human Development & Family Studies, College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia
Gary Laumann, Ph.D., Prevention Research & Development, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Laurie Kramer, Ph.D., Human & Community Development, University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
Here are some questions that children often ask about how to deal with issues in their families after divorce. There are also some suggested answers for children.
Even though my parents have divorced they still fight and argue. What should I do?
It is really tough on teens when their parents
continue to fight. Remember that you can't be in charge
of your parents' life and most of the time, you can't
really do much about how they behave towards each other.
Maybe when they are calmer or when you have a chance to
talk to them you can tell them that it is hard for you
to hear them fight and that you don't like it. Sometimes
they don't notice what they are doing and this can help
them see that this does affect you too.
Mainly, I would suggest that you try to make sure
that you are out of the way when they are having a
fight. Go in the next room and get away from the
situation. Also, don't get involved in their fighting by
taking sides this will only make things worse. If you
are really feeling overwhelmed by their fighting, please
find an adult friend, grandparent, teacher or someone
who you can talk to about how you are feeling and see if
they have any ideas that can help you.
How can I handle situations in which my parents are not getting along?
You should not do anything at first. You need to begin by realizing that your parent's arguments and fights are their responsibility and that they need to work things through themselves. One of the hardest things for anyone to do is to let people you care about fight their own battles. Usually parents are the ones that have a hard time letting their sons and daughters fight their own fights. In divorced families children often try to take care of one or both parents. Your parents are adults and need to take care of themselves and their relationship. So keep telling yourself that, if your parents continue to fight and argue, "this is theirs to work through, not mine".
Some tips for dealing with arguing and fighting
1. Physically leave the place they are
fighting. Even if they're fighting on the phone leave
the room. It may help you to say to yourself, "This is
their fight, not my fight".
2. Even if you physically leave the fight or argument, it may "stay" with you in your thoughts or feelings. What can you do then? First, think of other people or things that make you feel good about yourself; then...
If you need to talk about the arguing and fighting and get it "off your chest", tell someone you trust to just listen to you. Say..."Let me just talk about my parents for 10 minutes and get it out of my system". After it is "off your chest", thank that person for listening and "let the issue go"...at least for the time being.
Physically go be with someone that likes and respects you. Talk with them about things that you find interesting or they find interesting. Do not talk about your parent's fighting and let the fighting or arguing fill all the time with your friends.
Choose to do something that you find satisfying and fascinating. These are things that I or my friends do to build ourselves up and keep us positive:
Bake bread from scratch
Plant flowers or work in the yard
Go running or biking or swimming or to aerobics
Call or visit a friend that you've been meaning to get in touch with
Take a trip to the library and search for a book that would be a treat for you to read
Go for a long walk or a bus ride (round trip...no fair running away)
Take a sauna or whirlpool at school or a YM or YWCA
Go to a place that you feel is holy or sacred. Ask God through your way of prayer to care for you and both your parents. You may want to:
Read from a bible or other sacred scripture... quiet yourself and slowly read a section... see if any words or phrases offer you healing or hope
Go to a church service during the week
Go to a church, synagogue, mosque, a non-denominational chapel at a hospital or some place in nature that you feel is holy... just sit or BE in that place...enjoy the place you have chosen to be
Go talk to your pastor, rabbi, or youth minister
Since my parent's divorce there is not enough money to pay for things at my Mom's house and my parents are fighting about the money. Mom wants me to try to convince my Dad to pay more money. What should I do?
This is not a good situation. It is not your job to talk to your Mom or Dad about their money or how they manage this situation. I am sad to hear that you are in this situation. This is very hard. I suggest that you talk to each of your parents about this situation and say that you don't want to talk to either of them about money or pass any other messages between them. Tell them how it makes you feel about the situation. If this doesn't seem to work, then please find an adult friend, grandparent, teacher or someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling and see if they have any ideas that can help you.
My mother puts down my father all the time.
It is very hard to listen to one parent putting down the other parent. None of us likes to hear others being put down, especially not someone we love. Sometimes parents do this without really thinking about what they are doing. They are angry or upset and they just say things they often regret later on.
It is important for your mother to know how it feels
to you when you hear this. Find a time when you can talk
with her and tell her how it makes you feel. You might
say something like, "When you call my Dad names, it
makes me feel really bad or sad." Just describe your
feelings to her. A lot of times this will help because
she will think before she does this the next time.
Sometimes this may not help. You can also tell your Mom
when she does this that you don't want to hear this and
perhaps leave the room. If you do this, say things in a
calm manner. If you are feeling really upset by this
experience, please find an adult friend, grandparent,
teacher or someone who you can talk to about how you are
feeling and see if they have any ideas that can help
Since my parents' divorce my dad asks me to tell him about what my mom is doing on the weekends.
I am not exactly sure about your question. Your Dad may just be interested in how your Mom is doing and what is going on in your lives together. It is okay to tell each of your parents about the general things that are going on in both your homes. On the other hand, your Dad may be asking you to be a sorta spy and tell things that might make your Mom look bad. If you are uncomfortable with the questions he is asking, tell him you are uncomfortable and that if he wants to know what Mom is doing, then he should ask her and not you.
I have a question about visiting my parents since they have been divorced. When I come back from a weekend visit with my dad, he always tells me to tell my mom what the plans are for the next weekend. He won't talk to her.
It is hard when you get caught in being the "message service" for your parents. Sometimes you may not have a choice about this if they really won't talk to each other about the basic arrangements, but this really isn't a good situation for you. I would first try to talk with your Dad and tell him how it makes you feel to be the message service. You might say something like "When you ask me to tell things to Mom, I'm nervous or worried that I won't get the message right or that she will blame me for something." Or you might say, "I am worried that I will forget and not tell her the right things, can you just talk to her?" Sometimes parents just forget or they haven't really thought about it from your side. If they are having a hard time talking to each other you might suggest that they write notes, send e-mail, use an answering machine or some other way of talking that doesn't get you in the middle.
Since my parent's divorce they each are trying to out do each other. Every time my dad buys me something or takes me somewhere, my mom tries to do something better.
A lot of teenagers talk about this happening to them. This seems to be common soon after parents start living in separate places or during the time when they may be deciding about exactly how they are going to share their parenting responsibilities. I think what you have said about feeling like a prize probably says what most teens feel about this - like they are in some contest. A lot of times parents get caught up in a situation and don't see what's going on. You might try telling them that you don't need all this extra stuff. Tell them what you really care about. You might try saying something like, "I don't care if we go special places or get special treats, I just want to spend some time with you doing..... (and then say what you like to do)." Make sure you tell this to both your parents. You might also tell them that sometimes this makes you feel like you are a prize in a contest.
How do I invite both of my parents to school functions (i.e. basketball games, band concerts, school plays, etc.), especially if they don't get along very well?
The best thing to do is invite each parent in person. Try to avoid inviting them over the phone.
1. State things as positively as
possible: "I would like it if you.....", "It would make
me happy if you would...."
2. Tell your parents exactly what you
3. Tell your parents why it is
important to you.
4. Tell your parents what you expect them to do about it.
What not to do:
5. DO NOT surprise your parents with
each other's presence. Let them both know if the other
will be there. Surprising them can make your parents
angry. They may feel as if you've gone behind their
6. DO NOT threaten your parents. "If
you don't come I'll never speak to you again!"
Threatening only builds hostility and tension and
reduces the chance that your parents will respond
positively to you.
7. DO NOT whine. Whining really annoys
8. DO NOT pass the job off to someone
else. Do not ask your mother to invite your father for
you. Do not ask your Grandmother to invite your parents
for you. You need to take responsibility for getting
what you want. Your parents are more likely to respond
positively to you when you act like an adult.
9. DO NOT bring up negativity from the
past. "You never come to any of my games! You were never
around before and you're never around now...You don't
care about me!" Do not make your parent feel guilty for
what they have done or have not done in the past.
10. Number 5 can also be known as
"guilt tripping". Again, do not do this. Present your
request positively and in an adult manner.
"Dad, I have a basketball game on Friday night at 8:00pm. It's an important game and I really want you to be there. I've invited mom too".
"Mom, I have a basketball game Friday night at 8pm. It's an important game and I really want you to be there. I've invited Dad too".
How do I tell my parents that it is embarrassing to me to have them disagree when they are both invited to school functions (i.e. basketball games, band concerts, school plays, etc.), especially if they don't get along very well?
Be upfront and clear with each of your parents that:
- It means a lot to you if they could both come to these events;
- You don't expect them to sit together or talk to each other (if this is true for you);
- That you hope that they won't argue or do hurtful things to each other during these times.
My parents are divorced. For the last few weeks my dad says that he is going to spend time with me on the weekend, then at the last moment he calls and says something has come up and he can't come get me. Sometimes I just wish he wouldn't come at all. What should I do?
This sounds like it makes you really sad. This is a very tough situation and other teens in this situation have said that this is one of the most difficult things about their parents getting divorced. It is very important to let both of your parents know how this is making you feel. Tell your Mom how this is making you feel. She can probably help you think more clearly about this. Also, tell your Dad. I don't know if you get to talk on the phone or how you communicate with him, but let him know how you are feeling. Maybe something really has happened that makes his life more demanding or maybe he just doesn't know what this is doing to you. By letting him know you can help him understand your situation. Even if you can't visit right now think about other ways that you may be able to communicate with him. Can you call on the phone once each week? What about letters? E-mail? Let him know what you are doing.
I haven't seen my dad in about six months. It is like he just disappeared. He has called sometimes, but I feel like he just doesn't care anymore about us. What should I do?
This situation sounds like it is really making you feel bad. I am really sorry to hear this. This must be just about the worse thing about divorce. Sometimes a parent stops contacting his or her children. Sometimes fathers feel so bad about the divorce and what is happening that visiting their children only makes them feel worse. They think that if they don't see them at all that this would be better than seeing them some of the time. They are wrong about this, but this is how they think. You cannot change your Dad's actions, but you can let him know how much you miss seeing him and that you want to see him.
I really wanted to go to a concert and my Dad says we just don't have enough money.
This must be very disappointing to you. Sometimes there is just not enough money. Most families that are going through divorce or have been through divorce have less money for fun stuff. I know that doesn't make this any better, but at least you know that almost every other young person is facing the same problem. Of course, I also would bet that sometimes even before your parents got divorced you couldn't always go to every concert you wanted to or do everything you wanted. There are always some limits on what we can do.
Maybe you can think of ways that you can earn some
money for special activities like this. Talk to your
parents about earning some money around the house. Maybe
this isn't possible. Can you earn some extra money by
doing chores for neighbors, grandparents or others?
There may be several ways you can earn some extra
How do I split up holidays between my mom's family and my dad's family without hurting anybody's feelings?
First, realize that until you're 18, you may not have much of a say about who you spend holidays with. Lots of times there is a custody or visitation arrangement that was approved by a judge that governs how you will spend this time. However, if arrangements about how you will spend holidays are not set in stone, you may be able to talk with your parents about what you'd like to see happen.
It is good to realize that your preferences about how
you spend the holidays could potentially hurt one or
both of your parents' feelings, and so it is good to try
to be fair (as much as possible) and spend time with
both parents. Remember that quality of time together may
be more important than the quantity of time spent
together. (For example, one weekend with a parent where
you spend a full day together could be just as much time
together as a week when your parent has to go to work
If you do have a role in deciding who you spend
holidays with, be creative. You could develop a plan
where one year you spend Christmas Even (if this is a
big holiday for you) with one parent and Christmas day
with the other, and then do it the opposite way the next
It is also good to talk with your parents individually about your feelings about how this is working out. Once you understand each other's feelings you can begin to problem solve about how to make things better.
Last Updated 05/11/2009