In Finland, thousands of teenagers’ parents get divorced each year. We sent out a writing prompt to teenagers whose parents got divorced and asked them to tell us what kinds of words, actions, or people made them feel safe and secure while their parents were going through the divorce. We were interested in hearing about what helped them cope and what made them afraid or anxious.
You can read their responses below.
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“I was 3 years old when my parents got divorced. Now that I’m 13, I can’t remember what it was like, but Mum’s told me about it. I always missed the parent that I wasn’t with for years. Sleeping next to Mum and seeing Dad a lot in the beginning helped me.”
“My parent’s divorce was really hard. I was 12 the first time they told me they were planning on getting a divorce and I felt completely hopeless and defeated. I couldn’t process it at first, it took me ages. Even though my parents kept saying it wasn’t our (childrens) fault, I still felt bad. I remember thinking about what I could have done differently and how I could have stopped my parents from getting a divorce. I even wrote my parents a letter promising I would do everything I could to keep our family together, as long as they just didn’t break up. I never dared to give my parents the letter, but I think it helped me process the divorce. Later I understood that there wasn’t anything I could have done, and the divorce was the right solution, even though it took me a long time to adjust.
For a long time, I was afraid our family would be broken after the divorce and nothing would be like before. It kind of was, and having two homes was really difficult sometimes. Luckily my parents handled it well for the most part and made the switches as easy for us as possible.
It made me feel safe when one of my parents would come to talk to me and they were interested in how I was doing. It made me feel like I was important. I didn’t want to talk about the divorce though, I wanted to process it on my own. But it was still important that my parents kept reminding me that I could always have a chat if anything was on my mind. The worst was when my parents didn’t have anyone to talk to and needed to get things off their chest, so they talked to me. They didn’t mean harm, but I’m sensitive and it made me worry about my parents, which was tiring. Having to give my parents messages from each other was tiring too, for example “When you go to Mum’s, can you ask her to take care of this please…”
I think the biggest relief for me was how well my parents behaved after the divorce. They respected each other back then and they still do now. They could talk without arguing, even though they didn’t always agree about everything. They were always civil with each other in front of us kids, and behind the scenes as far as I know. It wasn’t ever an issue to have them both at the same party for example. How they behaved has been really important to me and I think it’s saved me from having anxiety about my own future and relationships.”
“My parents got divorced when I was 6 years old. Once I got over the initial shock, I had a reasonably easy time. It helped me that I had friends with divorced parents, and I saw both of my parents a lot. Now that I’m 16 I can understand why my parents got divorced better and I think it was definitely the right choice for them.”
“It made me feel safe when Mum and Dad would tell me everything was going to be ok and we’ll be fine. My parents stayed on good terms, which made it easy to go back and forth between houses and they also lived close by.”
“My parents got divorced when I was 9 years old. Even though my parents had been fighting a lot and my dad had a serious alcohol problem, the divorce was a big shock for me and my two brothers. It felt horrible when my parents told us. We were sitting at the kitchen table, my stomach was clenching, my eyes were stinging with tears, and I was terribly afraid about what would happen to me and my brothers after the divorce. My parents handled it well and reminded us several times that the divorce didn’t mean we were any less loved and it wasn’t our fault. Those words were unbelievably important to hear, and they got me through the crisis. Even though everything was changing, it was comforting to know that my parents were still there for me and they loved me just as much as before.
My godmother helped me a lot to process the divorce. She didn’t take sides and she really listened to me when I needed to talk. In the beginning, when the new living arrangements felt strange, it was important to have someone who I could go for ice-cream with or who would take me out to watch a movie without stress or tension. While some of my relatives were divided and pressured me to choose a side, my godmother was understanding and never said anything negative about either of my parents. She would always make sure I knew we would get through everything and I could always talk to her.
In addition to support, it was important that the rest of my life continued as normal. My hobbies became more important after the divorce, and they were a good outlet for my feelings. I enjoyed painting, gymnastics, and spending time with family. Doing nice, fun things in general helped me process the divorce and brought joy into my life when everything else was difficult. Routines, schedules, seeing friends and doing things I enjoyed were what got me through and helped me recover.
Thinking about the divorce was difficult for a long time and it took me a long time to stop hoping my parents would get back together. I felt guilty at both parents’ houses and I was afraid that the parent I wasn’t with would be lonely and unhappy without me. Everything from alternating weeks to moving felt strange and my dad’s alcohol problem made things difficult too. Now that I’m 17, I can say I’m happy my parents got divorced. Both of my parents as well as me and my siblings have been a lot happier than before and ironically it feels weird to even think that my parents were married once. Divorce affects children differently, but the most important thing for a child to have is a lap to crawl into and someone who really listens.”
Don’t stay alone – Chat for children and teenagers