I’m finally divorced from my second husband. I have a 19-year-old son from my first marriage (doing fine) and have two children from my second marriage, ages 14 and 11. I want to say the breakup was “friendly,” because now it mostly is, but the kids have definitely seen some stuff I wish hadn’t happened – plenty of yelling, badmouthing behind each other’s back, and one very sad incident of “pushing” when we let the ugliness get out of hand.
Even though that nonsense is pretty much behind us, I realize now I was kidding myself about things not affecting the kids. I just found out my 14-year-old daughter – the smartest and best student of my three kids – is failing one class, and flirting with an F in another. I feel really bad, because she’s obviously torn up by the end of our marriage, and seeing her father move out.
I really want to be patient, loving, and to “be there” for her, but I also work full-time and I’m dealing with more than her being sad – I’m getting mouthy-ness, sneakiness, and lying. Help.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind you (but of course I will anyway) that even without your separation you were in for a heck of a ride with your 14-year-old.
So I hope you’ll see my initial point that it’s actually good you feel bad about – and don’t just skip over – the major impact the turmoil has had on your daughter. It speaks well of you, actually. I see so many immature, self-centered, clueless parents who are totally oblivious to what their children are going through.
But. Now you do need to plug into your daughter – be “present” with her – and not be weighed down by guilt. This is where your self-awareness and sense of responsibility serves you. Even if your ex wants to go a few more rounds because he’s still processing the marriage, your piece of that dynamic must now – absolutely – be under control. This is very serious – which is what you convey to your daughter, both in your own conduct and in your demeanor toward her.
So, what you’re putting out there now is that, yes, you got sidetracked emotionally by the separation, and it affected the entire family. But – you’re “back” now: on duty and on high alert. It begins there.
Sorry – there are no magic words which, if you say them loudly or forcefully enough, will stop your daughter in her tracks and turn things around instantly – but, believe me, she will sense your new focus.
It’s “all hands on deck” time. You may be depressed yourself, you may have a zillion things to do, but your very smart daughter failing school is not an option. Whatever energy that requires from you is there. You’re saying, in essence: the worst part of the divorce has happened, you know it affected her, you’re sorry about that, but you haven’t given up your “Mom muscles” – your parental authority. Being mouthy is rude, disrespectful, and won’t work. Lying and sneakiness aren’t just wrong, they also result in the obvious truth that you’ve lost trust in her – which she needs to regain if she values her freedom and ability to do the things she wants to do, let alone a have a healthy relationship with her mother.
Until your daughter is back on track, she isn’t. You’re the Mom. Don’t flinch. Get angry AND have compassion. (In good moments assure her that everything will be OK) But you know what you’re seeing, and only you – Mom – will know when you’re truly satisfied that things have returned to where you expect them to be.