How a teen can best deal with their parents’ divorce

paytay143 asks: I’m 18, and about to be a sophomore in college. And I don’t even know where to begin. I came to you once for advice about an issue with my boyfriend and it really helped so much. So now I’m here again. But this time, the issue I’m having revolves around my parents. You see, my parents are in the middle of a very nasty and ugly divorce. It started really in the fall of last year. So not exactly great timing for me, as things between my parents escalated right as I was starting my first year of college. You see my dad is somewhat of a functioning emotionally abusive alcoholic. And he has never once treated my mother the way she deserves to be treated. I could go on and on about how horrible it was to be around him most of the time, but to sum it up, being at my house, it was like walking on eggshells around him. Even the slightest thing would set him off. Then he’d scream and yell and blame us and then go out and get wasted with his friends. Then he’d come home and just be awful to all of us. My mom has tried to leave him TWICE. But stayed with him for the sake of my sister and I. Well eventually sometime this past December, my dad moved out. Things were great at my house. My mom, my sister and I were all getting along awesome and everything was great. We were like our own cute little sorority house. Then dad started getting nasty and saying awful things to our friends and family about my mom. He called her horrible names and even said he wished she was dead. When my sister and I confronted him about this, he denied everything. And things kept getting uglier and uglier. At this point, this whole ordeal is a rollercoaster. Some days are fine and everyone is civil. And some days my father is just an awful person and says horrible things and then tries to manipulate us into thinking he’s a victim and that everything is my mom’s fault. At this point I just want this all to be over. I’m just waiting for the day that this divorce is final, but my father is doing everything in his power to prolong the ordeal. And now he is threatening to push the sale of our house. Yep. My father is basically trying to kick my mom, my little sister and I out of our own home. And apparently there’s a 50/50 chance that he’ll get away with it. He has constantly ruined so many things for me. He ruined my first year of college, he scarred a good part of my childhood because he was drunk for a good 75% of it, and now he’s trying to take my home away. And I can’t help but feel like this divorce is my fault. That me going to college, and working so much, and having a boyfriend and not being around so much, created problems. It wasn’t always bad around my home, ya know? Sure there were bad days, but my dad had a lot of good days too. He’s a goofball and he made us laugh and he loved to be outdoors and do something cool. But in this case, that little amount of good wasn’t enough. And I can’t help but feel like I’m to blame sometimes. Like I could have done more to help. And throughout this whole year I have let so much guilt and anger and sadness consume me and I really sucked at my first year of college. I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed everyone around me; my mom, my dad, my sister, my boyfriend, my friends, my family. And I feel like I’m not good enough for them and that I don’t deserve any of them. And I have never felt more useless, pathetic, and alone. I have no idea how to make things better for myself. I have no idea even if things will ever get better. I had an enormous breakdown last night and I needed someone to talk to and no one was around. I felt all of these crazy thoughts and feelings and I even almost called a suicide hotline but didn’t because I felt pathetic. I am so lost and I don’t even know what to do to move forward. I’m not even sure if you can help me, but I just need someone to tell me something that isn’t just “oh don’t worry everything will be okay.” And I guess that’s it. I could go on and on but I’d probably just be repeating myself.

Hi paytay143 –


So first of all, I want you to look at a post I have on the AskShirelle website, about when divorces are the kids’ fault.  It was submitted by MyrnaFan1.  Please read it first.








Okay.  Did you cheat and keep reading?


Well, if you did, here’s the answer:   NEVER.  It is literally impossible for a divorce to be the child’s fault.



Especially with the situation your parents are in. In fact, you’ve even been told by your mother that she tried to leave him twice before, but stayed for the sake of the children. So one could argue (although it was always her choice) that you were indirectly responsible for them not divorcing sooner.


Now if you’re asking whether having a mediator in the house, someone to work on their marriage, to help your father quit drinking and deal with his rage issues, to help your mother find the strength she needed… this super-person… if that could have helped them work things out and saved their marriage? I honestly don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.


But I do know, as sure as I know lambchops taste good, that THAT HAS NEVER BEEN YOUR JOB. In fact, I’d argue that, if you had tried to make it your job, you’d have failed. Not because you’re not smart or caring, but because you’re their kid. If your pain and wishes weren’t enough ten years ago to keep him from drunken rages, why would you have been able to stop them now? These people changed your diapers and taught you to use a spoon; they’re not going to even be able to see you into a place of power to change their whole way of being.


My human friend Handsome is a psychotherapist, and works with a lot of couples. They pay him well to be the ‘expert,’ and give them ways to fix what’s wrong in their relationships. And at least half of his suggestions never get taken. So I’m saying that there’s no way you could have fixed things if you’d been there.


In fact, from everything you’re telling me, I am thinking things are actually working out for the best. Yes it’s just awful right now, but look at what’s ahead: Your mother will be free of his anger and abuse, and won’t have to walk on eggshells anymore. Your father has a good chance of “hitting bottom,” which experts on addiction refer to as the point when an addict finally admits they need help and takes action to improve their lives. (You say he’s been “functioning;” well I’m liking the idea that he might be reaching the point where the dysfunction gets so strong he does some things to save his life!).


My friend, there’s an experience I see lots of teens go through when they first go to college. They’re away from home, from their parents, from all those rules and problems, for the first time, and it can get a little scary. I see them often start to think about their childhood in ways they never had before, start to wonder about books and movies they liked when they were five, and about things that all seemed normal before and suddenly now they’re realizing weren’t. And become as homesick as me in a kennel when Handsome’s been gone for two weeks!


So I’m guessing that, while your parents tried to protect you from their divorce when you were growing up, their timing has hit right when you were going through all of this. And so you, maybe more than you ever would have before, desperately wish you could put the pieces back together and re-create the best of your childhood, the fun times, the joking and laughter and love.


And instead you’re facing a future where your parents won’t even be in the same home.


This is HARD, paytay143! It’s not fair and it’s heartbreaking. And it’s what’s going on. And, sad as I am to say it, there is absolutely nothing you can do to change it.


But you CAN change the future.




Well, for starters, your mom needs all the support she can get. She’s starting a new life, with her friends hearing all sorts of awful things about her (I’m assuming many, maybe all, are untrue). She needs a pal. She needs a daughter who can give her love on love on love, the way I do when I lick people’s tears off their face.


And your dad is maybe in worse shape. Can you give him tough love? Can you push him to go to an AA meeting, and/or a therapist? To work on the incredible pain he’s going through, that’s making him be so mean to your mom?


And biggest of all, can you take care of yourself! Can you do everything in your power (a therapist or going to Al-Anon meetings would be EXCELLENT) to get stronger, and build your self-esteem in new and glorious ways.


But first of all, before you can do any of these, can you now read (or re-read) my post about children of divorce? Aloud! Because it’s true, and you might need to be told it a lot of times.


And right now, the one who can tell it to you is yourself. The best friend you’ll ever have.


(Though I like to think sometimes I’m second!)


Love On Love On Love,


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