We’ve heard the familiar phrases: “Home for the holidays” and “Home is where the heart is.” But for teens of divorce, those common phrases may bring up feelings of anxiety and confusion. If you haven’t experienced divorce yourself the easiest way to relate is to think of any loss or heartbreak that you have suffered. Anyone who has lost a loved one or is newly single knows that the holidays can be an especially difficult time. I have had to walk through this as a parent, but I reached out to Marissa McDonald, one of my teens, to assist me in providing some tips to help you walk alongside teens of divorce.
Depending upon the family dynamics, teens may be relieved that their parents are divorced. This could mean less conflict in the home and happier parents. Unfortunately with that relief may come feelings of guilt, because I mean divorce is bad, right? Well it’s similar to when an elderly grandparent passes away or someone who has been suffering an illness dies. We are sad that they have passed away but we are happy for them that the suffering has ended. With divorce can come some relief and a chance for renewed life. You can let a teen know that it’s ok to feel relieved. For those who are still upset and hurt by the divorce these words may bring comfort.
Words from a teen who knows: “Your family is not broken. It has separated so it can expand.”
Her experience of divorce is that she did not lose the love of her Father and Mother. Rather she gained the love of more family members.
Out with the Old – In with the New
A constructive way of helping teens cope and realize the bittersweet reality they may be facing is to ask them about their family Christmas traditions. Going into the first Christmas after a divorce, teens may realize that the traditions they grew up with may happen differently this year. Let them share with you their favorite traditions. Let them think through whether these traditions could continue with a little bit of creative thinking. If not, then take the opportunity to help the teens dream up new traditions. Then encourage them to share these ideas with their parents.
A teen who knows said “For many teens they may not get just one Christmas, but two!”
Think 2 Homes
The season of Advent is full of Catholic family traditions such as the Jesse Tree, Advent Wreath and Advent calendar. If you plan to do any of these activities with your youth encourage your teens with two homes to make two and keep one at each home. This will help them practice their faith in both homes and have a sense of consistency and continuity with practicing their faith.
Words from a teen who knows:
“They have more than one place to be welcomed and they are not limited to practicing their faith in just one household. There are many ways of transferring your faith to different places. Some examples would be to bring one of your favorite prayers to one house or a picture/relic that you may have. Do not think that your faith has to stay within one house if your other parent is not religious. You are free to practice your faith in your homes.”
It’s a Family Thing
Remember that divorce affects the whole family. Odds are that the parents may be experiencing feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and anxiety over the family changes. They may be tempted to over buy and over plan, in order to compensate for the obvious loss that everyone is suffering. What teens of divorce are looking for is love and time spent together. They want to know: Where will I be Christmas Eve? Who’s house will I wake up in on Christmas morning? When do I see Mom? When do I see Dad? Who will take me to Church? Encourage families to tackle these questions not just tackle the presents.
Leave them with Hope
One of my favorite movies is “Hope Floats”. It stars Sandra Bullock who plays a newly divorced mom. The title of the film comes from this line delivered by Sandra’s character to her daughter, “She [Sandra’s mother] says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up . . . and it will.” I imagine that Christ’s disciples probably faced this pattern a couple of times. First the fear of leaving their life behind for a new beginning to follow Christ. Then of course the sad ending of their beloved teacher’s life by death on the Cross. We know that wasn’t the real end. They had to wait 3 days for hope to “float up” when Christ rose from the dead. For our teens and their families, divorce is not the end either. Rather . . .
Words from a teen who knows:
“It [divorce] is the start of something new with exciting possibilities and experiences.”
St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). So what are families of divorce and their caring youth ministers called to do? Love God and wait in joyful hope for God to work in our families.