outreach: coping with divorce

When Scott’s* parents divorced, everything in his life turned upside down. Within a few months, both of his parents moved, his belongings were separated, he was shuffled in between houses on visits and he could no longer participate in soccer or go to Sunday dinners at his grandmother’s house. In short, he felt like he had lost his family. For a while, he appeared to be doing OK; he didn’t really talk about the divorce, he spent time in his room playing video games, and his fourth grade teacher said he seemed fine. However, about six months after the divorce, Scott was having angry outbursts at home, refusing to listen and was not turning in homework. His parents agreed to take him to Outreach.

Scott’s parents requested to meet with the counselor separately, as they would often erupt into fighting if they were in the same room together. They acknowledged that the divorce got ugly at times ,but thought that something else must be bothering their son because he had done well for so long. The counselor explained that children react in many different ways to divorce and process the changes at different times. Initially, it appeared that Scott was sad, isolating himself, and unable to put words to his feelings and the changes he experienced. As time went on, those feelings started to come out as tantrums, defiance and aggression. Scott expressed to his counselor that after the divorce his parents did not treat him the same way and he felt like he didn’t belong anywhere. He would refer to “my Mom’s house” or “my Dad’s apartment,” but never “home” or “my room.” He noticed that he didn’t have chores anymore, Dad would let him have unlimited screen time, and Mom no longer enforced bed times. While he liked some of those things, it just wasn’t the same. Scott described the home environment as “stressful.” He would listen to his parents argue or cry over the phone, and he felt they used “visitation” rules to make each other angry and he would end up missing out on things he wanted to do.

In this time of transition and change, the counselor reminded Scott’s parents that he needed to count on them to have consistent rules, discipline when needed, their cooperation  to the best of their ability and  for them to be supportive of him while not leaning on him for their own support. The parents were able to utilize the guidelines and resources provided by the counselor to make a common set of house rules. They worked on a schedule to ensure Scott could participate in the things he enjoyed, see friends and extended family and feel some stability rather than feeling that he was tossed back and forth. The counselor also had family sessions with Scott and each of his parents where he was encouraged to talk about his thoughts and feelings and begin to define what his family will look like. Each parent was asked to acknowledge the importance of the other and allow Scott to share his experiences with the other parent. They began developing new traditions but reminded him that no matter what, they are still a family and he is still loved.

*Scott represents a typical Outreach client. Details do not correspond with any specific case in order to protect client anonymity.

Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth and parents that are affordable, accessible and discreet; all within a welcoming, supportive environment.