I spend my days working with adolescents and my evenings working with the recently divorced. And apart from the taste in music, I increasingly find that the two groups share many growing pains as they navigate one of life’s major transitions. Both teenagers and the recently divorced are:
Learning to Be Independent
The teenagers I work with are just beginning to form their own opinions and beliefs apart from their parents. They are practicing how to navigate the world without an adult stepping in and taking care of business for them. After divorce, people are also learning to be independent, teasing out their own opinions from those of their spouse. They may have to take on new tasks that were once the domain of their partner. In both cases, the additional responsibility is scary yet the increasing independence is empowering, building confidence with each step.
Playing With Identity
I am no longer surprised when a previously preppy student comes in with hot pink hair or a teenager who listened to One Direction one week proclaims to love hard core rap the next. Young adults are famous for trying on and discarding identities like blue jeans in a dressing room. The recently divorced also have a tendency to play around with identity. The old identity no longer fits and it takes time (and some trial and error) to figure out the new one. With the divorcee, this exploration often extends to trying on new careers, new cities, new hobbies, new “types” when dating and a new appearance.
Struggling With Insecurity
Teenagers are notoriously insecure. They pull their hair down over their pockmarked faces, hoping that nobody will notice their pimpled skin. They stress over class presentations, convinced that their classmates are secretly laughing at them. The insecurity of the newly divorced is enhanced by a feeling of rejection. They worry that they are too old, too fat or too damaged to reenter the dating scene. Both groups can be found posting excessive selfies, not to show off, but to build confidence.
Trying to Make Sense of Emotions
Teenagers can be loving and sweet one moment and screeching baboons the next. They don’t mean to, they’re just trying to make sense of the world through the chaos of their changing brains and growing bodies. Their divorced counterparts may not be dealing with an influx of hormones, but they are learning how to deal with emotions powerful enough to level small towns. In both groups, expect plenty of tears, lots of shouting, out-of-control laughter and a rapid-fire switch between the three.
Scared and Excited About the Future
As high school approaches, my 8th graders lose their confidence and seek more attention from their teachers. They’re excited about the next chapter, but they’re also scared. Scared of new demands. New people. New responsibilities. And more opportunities for mistakes. After divorce, the future is also both scary (What if I never love again? How will I survive on only income? What if I only attract toxic relationships?) and exciting (I get to rebuild my life the way I want! I can finally buy that blue sofa he hated! I get a chance to date and explore new people!). Whether you are launching or relaunching, it’s not easy.
Figuring Out How to Belong
Middle schools are organized by cliques. And teenagers spend an inordinate amount of energy navigating these groups and figuring out where they belong within them. And there is always drama as allegiances are built and disassembled. After divorce, people have to renegotiate relationships with friends and family members. Lines are drawn. Friendships are dismantled. And new social groups are often sought.
Teenagers negotiate for freedom yet crave the security of boundaries. They push and push until they hear “no” and then they push some more just to make sure. The recently divorced are also negotiating boundaries. With their ex and also with themselves. It’s a time of change. The freedom feels good to an extent. But it’s also good to know the limits.
If you’re feeling crazy after divorce, don’t worry. You’re just experiencing growing pains. Handle yourself the way you would a changing teenager. And find some relief that adolescence is just a phase.