Telling a teenager that their parent is moving away to another country is a big challenge. Explaining this to a teenage child is very hard for the parent who is living with them. In my experience, there are very few teenagers that cope well with one parent leaving and moving far away when they have been engaged in parenting, at some level, for a number of years.
How can you support your teenager to cope with such hurt, confusion and pain as this age? Here are ’10 ways’ to support yourself and your teenager during this time:
- Supporting your teen starts with looking after your own needs. You may feel very isolated and overwhelmed with the task of parenting alone. It may generate old feelings of hurt and grief from the separation. Whatever it raises for you needs to be dealt with. Explore your support networks. Talking about your feelings is important to support you to understand and explore what you need to do next. If you can’t get support from friends and family then it may be time to seek professional support through counselling or parent mentoring.
- When you have reflected on your own feelings you can then reflect on what your teen’s needs. You know your teen best. Every teen will respond differently to a parent moving away. Creating the space to talk with them about how they feel is crucial. We can presume we know a lot about our children but often we get small details wrong; it is the small details that make the big difference. Just like us, teenagers don’t necessarily want someone to fix things but they do want someone to listen. Just hear what they are saying and acknowledge it. Thank them for telling you how they feel.
- Think about what their needs are, based on what they told you. What needs are left unmet as a result of their other parent moving away? What needs can you meet? It may seem very overwhelming, trying to meet all of these needs on your own. But again this is the time to look at what supports exist in your life, from family and friends to schools and clubs. You don’t have to do this alone. Let others in and allow them to offer support.
- Teenagers can feel great rejection and hurt that their parent has left. They can start to think that maybe the parent always wanted to leave. If conflict was an issue ongoing in the relationship they may feel it was the reason the parent left them. They will need reassurance that this is not the case.
- Keep talking and acknowledge how the change is difficult. Let them see what you are doing to try and cope with the change. It is okay to show how we, as parents, are feeling. Our children learn when they see how we cope. Coping mechanisms are what get us through life.
- Accept that some teens may blame you, the parent who is caring for them, and appear to worship the parent who has left, seeing no wrong in what they do. They may also wish that they could go and live with the other parent. This is normal.
- Although you are the key person in meeting their needs, your teen is also getting to a stage when they have to learn that they are also responsible for meeting their own needs. Help them explore what steps they can take to help themselves.
- Plan things together to support each other. Make dates with each other when you can share thoughts and feelings or simply spend some time together.
- Be patient and calm with your teen. Give them more hugs than ever. Just because they may be bigger than you don’t be fooled into thinking they don’t need a hug, they need them more than ever.
- Remember, you can move through this transition but you need to be there for each other. Acknowledge how you feel and acknowledge how your child feels even when you can do absolutely nothing to change it.
This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.