Divorce can negatively impact any child, but the effects can be especially complex if your child already struggles with mental health issues. While parents try to balance parenting responsibilities and their personal healing from the relationship, children are often caught in the crossfire. Attending family therapy after divorce helps parents learn how to communicate and collaborate with each other in order to support their teen who is going through residential treatment.
Some of the negative effects divorce can have on teens include:
- Difficulty with adjustment
- Strained parent-child relationships
- Attachment issues
- Feelings of abandonment or rejection
- Negative coping strategies
- Avoiding one or both parents
Splitting Between Parents
It is common for teens with divorced parents to “split”. This is a phenomenon that occurs when the child talks to one parent about something (usually something they want, like a new phone or going out with friends) and uses that parent’s answer as a way to get what they want. For example, if your son asks one parent for a new phone and they say no, they just go to the other parent who will say yes and give them what they want. They may also use one parent’s expectations as leverage over the other parent, by claiming one “lets me do this,” even if that’s not necessarily true.
Splitting is a common strategy, as many divorced parents try to limit contact with each other and often ask their kids to pass along messages or only talk to each other when it’s about picking the kid up.
One of the biggest risks of splitting isn’t just that they may try to get what they want out of one parent, it’s that it is easier to hide things from their parents. Teens might lie about seeing the other parent in order to spend time with friends instead. They may also be less likely to reach out to either parent if they are struggling with depression or anxiety. It is also possible that their unhealthy coping is more visible to one parent than the other. One parent might encourage their child to see a therapist as long as the other doesn’t find out.
When your child enters residential treatment, many of these issues come to light, as both sides of the family are encouraged to participate in the treatment process.
Goals of Family Therapy after Divorce
At Red Mountain Colorado, we know that healing the entire family system is essential to your teen’s long-term success. Our family therapeutic process is designed to help you and your child address underlying problems in the family dynamic and to help every family member learn new coping skills and communication strategies to make co-parenting easier.
This doesn’t mean that we push couples counseling, but rather focus on what parents can do to support their child–either during separate family calls and visits or by working together to set appropriate boundaries around how to collaborate.
Using a family systems approach, we discuss various roles that family members play–as an individual or in relationships–and ways that they would like to show up for each other.
Often, children of divorced parents who struggle with mental health issues take on the role of the “problem child,” where the parents’ relationship revolves around the individual. As they are the center of attention, they are unconsciously selected to act out of the family’s inner conflicts as a diversion.
Some tips that we offer divorced parents include:
- Keep open lines of communication. Many parents choose to have limited contact with the other following divorce. While you may not feel comfortable socializing with each other, it is important to be able to put aside differences to talk about your teen on neutral ground when they are struggling.
- Commit to keeping communication in front of children respectful. Family therapy after divorce focuses on the interests of the child and is not intended to be couples counseling. The goal of family therapy is to build a cooperative co-parenting environment. Personal issues and sensitive topics should be discussed when children are not present. Maintaining a civil relationship helps teens feel supported by both parents rather than having to pick a side.
- Get on the same page. It’s inevitable that most parents have unique parenting styles and that’s okay! But for parents that have joint custody, it can be confusing for their child as they may feel like they have to act a certain way around one parent but not the other. You don’t have to have the same home rules, but it can be helpful to identify what exactly your parenting style is and compare it to the way your ex does things. Putting information out in the open is a good foundation for figuring out what works for each parent and what may need to change.
- Reassure them that you’re still both there for love and support, even if it’s not at the same time. It’s important for your teen to understand that divorce doesn’t have to mean the end of their relationships with each parent. They may not fully understand why one parent seemed to “leave them” or why they “have a new family now,” but it is important that they recognize that divorce is not usually about the kids. Sometimes, parent separation is necessary for all family members to heal from the effects of marital conflict.
Red Mountain Colorado Can Help
Red Mountain Colorado is a residential treatment center for young people ages 13-17. The program focuses on influencing a positive change in the lives of students. Healthy, sustainable activities are also incorporated so that students will be able to apply the things they learn to their everyday lives. Students leave Red Mountain Colorado feeling empowered and in control of their lives.
For more information, call (877) 302-5022. We can help your family today!