Most people agree that broken families are more common now than ever, and separation/divorce is very much commonplace today. Dealing with the dynamics of a broken family is a skill that far too many young people are forced to develop. Over the past 15 years of work in a school setting, as well as through counseling practice, I have worked with countless young people who, through no fault of their own, have had to adjust their world to that of a one-parent family. There is no question that children and adolescents have the best chance of growing up with good physical and emotional health if they have two caring, involved parents raising them.
However, parental separation is a double-edged sword, as I have see it; yes, it is unquestionably tough for any young person to live with a new single-parent or step-parent reality. A changing of the faces in the household makes for a different level of attention given to the children, and a requirement to find new ways to get needs met, among other factors. There can be a flood of negative emotions that occur for him or her as well, including anger, loneliness, depression, helplessness, and even a feeling of fault. One of the most heartbreaking angles to any parental separation is a tendency for many young people to blame themselves for the breakup, wondering endlessly if their own behaviours or attitudes may be the major cause.
On the other hand, parents deciding to go their separate ways can also mean a reduction in the level of conflict and intensity within the home and family. That actually can bring relief, which many people do not count on. Kids and adolescents can grow well, both physically and emotionally, in an environment defined by love, safety, respect and structure. As long as these essentials are met at a minimum level, numerous studies have shown there is no single way a family must look in order to provide a nurturing environment for raising children. That is good news, especially in this day and age when families have numerous different looks and appearances. Our culture is also evolving toward acceptance of many different family structures – look no further than television shows such as Modern Family and Parenthood for evidence of this change.
In my work as a counsellor for children and youth, I have seen the heavy toll that high-conflict households have upon every member of a family. When that conflict can be reduced or eliminated, and a trusted guide is present to help one through the process, amazing transformations can happen despite all the obstacles a young person has faced. Kids and teens are very resilient – if love and genuine presence are evident from key people in their lives, they can thrive and freely become their true, authentic selves.