When your parents split up, it’s easy to blame them and be angry about it. After all, they (or at least one of them) didn’t ask you what you wanted. Chances are you have been angry about that at some point. You might have talked to someone who suggested that you need to forgive your parent(s). But, how? What does it mean to forgive? Why would you even want to?
What is Forgiveness?
Sometimes we choose not to forgive because it seems like offering forgiveness is saying, “what you did is ok.” The truth is, that has nothing to do with forgiveness. The dictionary (dictionary.com) defines forgive as:
One of the questions that comes up more than any other after parents separate is, what do I do if I don’t like the person my parent is dating? You can find some ideas here, here and here if you find yourself in that situation.
But, what if that person your Mom or Dad is still with is the person that caused the break up of your parents in the first place. Maybe the guy your Mom is with is the guy she cheated on your Dad with. Maybe your Dad’s new girlfriend is the woman he left your mom for in the first place. Maybe both of your parents are dating (or remarried to) the person they left your other parent for. How do you deal with that?
Let’s start by acknowledging the pain and the hurt that this situation causes. When your parents split up, it hurts! When you’re left to pick up the pieces and trying to figure out how to move on with life, it causes pain, confusion, stress and so much more. The loss of your family (as you knew it) hurts, and it is a loss that must be grieved.
When one (or both) of your parents cheats on the other and then leaves to be with the person they cheated with, the hurt and the pain can be that much worse. It is natural to feel betrayed, angry, confused or even abandoned. And, when your parent has a new person in their life, it oftentimes feels like they’re spending all of their time with that person and ignoring you when you need them the most. When that person is the one who “caused” the split, that feeling of being ignored or abandoned is even more intense. On top of all that, many times your parent will expect or pressure you to accept the new person in their life when that is the last thing on earth you want to do! So, what can you do about all that and how do you handle the situation? Here are a couple of suggestions:
Talk to your mom or dad about how you are feeling. Let them know that while you understand they want you to accept this new person, you are having trouble forgiving them or making peace with them because of the role they played. Be respectful and understand that this conversation will be difficult for your parent (as well as you). That said, getting things out in the open may help you both of you to understand better where the other one is coming from. If your conversations always end in yelling and screaming, consider writing your parent a letter. Remember, this is about sharing what you’re going through not bad mouthing or attacking anybody.
Find a trusted adult that you can talk to about what is going on and your feelings about this new person in your parent’s life. The worse thing you can do is to keep those feelings bottled up inside and/or act out in destructive ways instead of dealing with those emotions.
Accept the fact that you are not required to hate the new person in your parents’ life. It may feel like betraying your other parent to give this person a chance, but it’s not. Chances are there was more to your parents splitting up than just this person. How would you feel about them if you had met under different circumstances?
Practice forgiveness. It’s not always easy to forgive, and it might take you some time, but try to forgive your parent (and this new person) for what they’ve done and the pain they’ve caused you. Holding on to anger and hatred has little impact on them, but it will eat you up inside. Make the decision to forgive even if you don’t feel like it then work at it until the feelings match the decision (this may take a while, but it’s worth the journey).
Start a journal. Write down all those things you want to say but know that you can’t (or shouldn’t). Something about writing those things out helps to smooth the pain a little bit.
Look for the good, and choose to focus on that. There is generally some good in people who make bad choices and even in people that you can’t stand. What is good about this new person that you don’t like? Do you share any common interests or hobbies? Focus on those things rather than dwelling on the bad things. You don’t have to forget, and you don’t have to be buddy buddy, but choose to focus on the positive things for your own sake.
Avoid conflict. Where possible, try to avoid unnecessary conflict with your parent and with their new partner. Discussion is good because it seeks resolution. Conflict only seeks to impose one another’s views on each other. As much as you might like to, you can’t change your parent and you can’t change your parent’s new partner. You can change how you choose to respond. Respond in such a way that chooses to avoid conflict rather than pouring fuel on the fire.
Guard your heart. It’s easy to take on all of the pain, frustration, hatred and anger your parents are experiencing (or one parent is experiencing) as the result of a separation. You can be there for your parents without taking all of that on yourself. It’s not your responsibility, and frankly it’s not your place. Refuse to be a party to your parents’ conversations if they’re bad-mouthing one another, sharing details that you don’t really want or bad-mouthing your other parent’s new partner. Remind them that they are both your parents and you still love them both.
Finally, remember that just because one person lied to you or violated your trust, it doesn’t mean that all people will. Don’t let your current circumstances color your view of all people. This will be particularly important as you start to develop new relationships and move forward with your life.
Divorce is hard, and many times when parents get divorced the last thing they want to do is talk to the other spouse. When there are kids involved though, that isn’t an option. Even so, sometimes the anger and the hurt and the emotions are so overwhelming that even parents refuse to talk to one another. Maybe every conversation turns into a fight, or maybe they just can’t stand to be in the room with the other person. Whatever the reason, when parents refuse to talk it is generally the kids who get hurt the most. So, what can you do if your parents refuse to even talk to one another?
What you SHOULDN’T do if your parents aren’t talking
One of the most important things you should do is know those thing you shouldn’t have to do if your parents aren’t speaking:
Don’t be their messenger. You are their child not a delivery service and not a messenger service. If your parents refuse to talk to one another and ask you to deliver messages, politely and respectfully explain that you would rather not do that because it makes you uncomfortable, and ask them to find some other way to communicate with one another (see suggestions below).
Don’t take sides. Your parents won’t always make the best choices, and when they are angry or fighting, they may be tempted to try to sway you to “take their side” against the other parent. The fact of the matter is, you are free to love both of your parents, and they should respect that decision.
Don’t try to play counselor. If your parents need to find someone to help them get along better, they need to find an adult who is removed from the situation. That’s not your job, nor should you try to fill that role.
Don’t use it to your advantage. You may be tempted to use the fact that your parents aren’t talking to get your own way or to get one parent to agree to things the other has already said no too. This isn’t fair to your parents, and it will likely come back to haunt you.
Don’t take it personally. Even if your parents are fighting about things related to you (visitation, child support, etc.), it is not your fault that they are fighting. Don’t feel guilty about it.
When it comes to step and blended families, this question gets asked a lot. It is difficult living in the same house as someone you don’t really like. In order to answer this question though, we need to think about WHY you don’t like your stepparent.
In my experience, people who don’t like their stepparent fall into one of four categories:
#1: You don’t like your stepparent because they are a genuinely mean or unkind person. This is the category most kids who don’t like their stepparent would likely say they fall into, but in actuality it is the rarest of category and generally not the reason for the friction in the relationship. However, If this is genuinely the case (that your stepparent is mean or unkind), there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. Unfortunately, you can’t change people overnight. Instead, be respectful and aim for peaceful coexistence (meaning that you may not like him/her but you will at least choose to seek after peace rather than arguing or fighting). Remember that, as your stepmother or stepfather, this person is important to your biological parent even if he/she is not all that important to you. Remember to be respectful in your dealings with your stepparent even when it is hard. Choose to be respectful because it is the right thing for you to do even if the other person doesn’t necessarily deserve it. Try your best to be loving and kind to them. You never know – you’re actions may impact how they choose to live their life and that act of love or kindness may come back to you and lead to a more healthy relationship.
With that out of the way, we can talk about the other, more likely, reasons that kids don’t get along with their stepparents. Even if you think you into the first group, you need to try to step back and evaluate the situation unemotionally to figure out if it is actually something else driving your dislike for your stepparent. This can be hard, and it might help to ask some people you trust (friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents, etc.) to be honest with you about why they think the conflict exists.
Many children of single parents end up in a situation where their parents start dating again and they don’t like the new boyfriend or girlfriend. If there is a reason not to like them – like they make you feel uncomfortable or are physically or emotionally abusive, you need to tell someone about it. However, if you just don’t like them and you don’t know exactly why, there are some things you should keep in mind to help you adjust to your parent’s new love interest and keep from damaging your own relationship with your parent:
Remember, your parent’s boyfriend/girlfriend is not your new parent. They shouldn’t act like they are, and you shouldn’t expect them to fill that role. Talk to your mom or dad about it, but make sure you do it in a respectful way. Explain that you don’t like the idea of them dating. If it hasn’t been long since the divorce, explain that you need time to adjust to the divorce. Explain that you are trying, but that they need to understand that this hurts you. Don’t give ultimatums and don’t place blame. Just share your feelings. Remember that you don’t have to like the person your parent dates. Unless that person makes you feel unsafe for some reason, you don’t have to like them. Don’t try to force yourself to feel a certain way, you can’t. Try to start over. If there isn’t a reason not to like the new person in your parent’s life, go back and “redo.” Start over remembering that you are just working on forming a new friendship regardless of what your parent feels about this parent. Engage in idle chit-chat. Find things that you both like and talk about them (even it’s ice cream). Without the pressure on either of you, you might find it easier to start a relationship and even form a friendship with this person if you just start over. Guard your heart. Your parent might be in love, but that doesn’t mean this relationship will last. If you do put some effort into it and end up liking this person, guard your heart a little bit to avoid being overly vulnerable in the event the relationship ends. Work on your relationship with your parent. Just because the two of you disagree doesn’t have to destroy the relationship. Find some common ground or work together to set up some ground rules that you both can live with.
You might also find something useful in the following previous questions answered here on I Am A Child of Divorce: (more…)