I’m sorry that your parents can’t stand each other. Maybe your parents were never married, or maybe they are divorced, or maybe they are still together and it’s questionable if they should be. Whatever the circumstance may be, they just can’t find a way to get along. I’m sorry that you’re in this position, because you didn’t choose it. I’m sorry that you hear your mother constantly bad mouth your father. I’m sorry that they use you as a messenger so they can communicate with each other because they can’t even tolerate talking to each other. I’m sorry your father asks you every detail about the weekend you spent with your mother and about whether or not you like the guy she is dating. I’m sorry one parent won’t let you call or text the other parent when it’s “their night.” Maybe they aren’t so blatant about it, but your mom gives you an attitude or says a snarky comment once your off the phone with your father. I’m sorry that you know exactly how much money it costs to raise you because your parents fight over expenses and that should be none of your business. I’m sorry that your parents can’t put their own feelings aside to make life just a little less stressful for you. I’m sorry they make you feel guilty for liking the other parent. I’m sorry they are constantly trying to “one up” each other. I’m sorry you can’t all sit at the same dinner table on your birthday, or that you are already starting to worry about what your high school graduation is going to be like with them in the same vicinity.
According to the American Psychological Association, about 40-50% of married couples end up divorced. There are also many parents who have never married and have chosen to live separately and co-parent. This is ok! We used to believe that it was better for the child if parents remained “together.” That is no longer true. Now a better predictor of the child’s mental health and adjustment is based on the relationship the parents have with each other, whether or not they are married or co-habitating. Unfortunately, many teens in my practice live with constant tension and animosity between their parents. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child when separating is learning how to properly co-parent. This is a time a parent can model distress tolerance skills and teach kindness, empathy, and forgiveness, because teens are watching and internalizing family beliefs around these changes. Teens will apply these relationship skills in their social lives and with future partners. No matter what happened in a relationship, parents still need to respect their child’s other parent. Parents are a child’s first guide to the world. Please teach them how to react and adapt when things in life go wrong. Because life doesn’t go as planned.
Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.