The Effect of Divorce on Adolescent-Parent Communication
Recently, I came across a fascinating article by Canadian mental health advocate and Huffington Post writer Patricia Tomasi and felt compelled to write to her about this concept of whether teens whose parents divorce are affected in the ways that they communicate with their parents. (There’s lots of great research in the article, so check it out!)
I wrote to Patricia, and I am awaiting her response. I’ll include it in a future blog when I hear from her.
In a nutshell, the research suggests that post-divorce, especially daughters experience difficulty communicating with their fathers. This makes sense to me, and here’s why.
Fathers often rely on mothers to serve as buffers between them and the children. In a two-parent home, fathers often spend less time with the children, or take less time to understand their children on a personal level, relying on their wives to do that important work for them.
It’s a problem, definitely! And especially when research reveals that children often unconsciously learn how to have relationships based on the relationship they have with their opposite sex parent. So if a daughter has trouble talking with her dad post-divorce, this can have immense repercussions on a variety of levels.
In our society, many men still discount what women and girls have to say, which inspires a trickle-down effect that fathers may play out unknowingly with their daughters. Discounting feelings, not considering a daughter’s needs that may be different from their own, and other unconscious behaviors create long-term negative effects – which become glaring when the buffer of a mother’s love and understanding are removed from the family relationship.
It’s become more common to aim for equal parenting time for mothers and fathers in divorces, and I’m happy to see many fathers stepping up, becoming more involved and more attentive post-divorce when it’s all on them.
There are many fathers, however, who continue with the status quo, and if children are with them half the time, that’s a problem.
I’d love it if we could have automatic reviews of the parenting time schedule, like we do with child support. In Michigan, every three years, the Friend of the Court reviews the child support amounts at no cost to the parents, and makes adjustments as needed.
However, if a parent wants to change parenting time, and the other parent does not agree, they must file a motion with the court and meet difficult legal standards.
It’s a costly, arduous process which most often yields no change, and pits parents against one another in an adversarial process. That ill will does not help the co-parenting relationship, and it does children a disservice.
Ultimately, I believe divorce should be an ever-evolving situation where we take stock and amend the parameters on a regular basis for everyone’s benefit. That way, children and adolescents can ease into new relationships with both parents at a pace that is measured, reasonable and comfortable for them.
We want children to have good, healthy, communicative relationships with both parents. What is the best way we can assure this happens?