Written by Doctor G

Divorce and a Preteen Girl: It’s All About Me!

What advice do you have for helping an 11 year old girl deal with divorce?

Anonymous, in CA

First let me say that I’m sorry for your loss. Even if you are better off out of this marriage, you are likely still grieving for the family you hoped you’d have with this person.

I do wish you’d given me some more information. Each girl (or boy) and each divorce is of course unique. So I’m stumbling a little blind here, but I’ll do my best with what I know about development and relationship competency.

An eleven year old girl usually believes that everything is about her. What her friends do, what her teachers don’t say, how the stranger in line at the store is standing, the weather – these are all because of and reflections on and directly connected to her. So even though you’ve told her (I hope) that she has no fault or blame in this divorce, she doesn’t believe you.

You and your ex-spouse (assuming there are no issues of abuse or addiction) need to actually put your daughter’s happiness ahead of your own, no matter how hard that is.

1. Do not complain about the other parent or badmouth their parenting. If you believe that person to be a true danger to your child, you must do everything you can to remove them from the picture. If that is not the case, respect your daughter’s love and need for that person! Complain to your friends, when you are actually alone, not when your child is in the other room.

2. Go to therapy and send your daughter too. Find a therapist that a) gets your daughter and her communication style and b) won’t tell you most of what they talk about. This is too much to handle alone.

3. Do not date anyone for at least two years, and when you do start to date leave your child out of it. Ouch, I know. However, your child needs you, and your focus, more at this age than any other. She can not go along, even tangentially, on the highs and lows of you embarking on romantic relationships. She needs your focus and the certainty that there are no more major parent changes ahead for a good long while.

4. Keep parenting. Don’t become a “We’re really more friends than mother and daughter!” family. Your daughter has friends, she needs parents. Don’t let your guilt (if you have some, and what parent doesn’t) or your compassion keep you from making rules and enforcing them. Have as much empathy as you can for her situation but don’t let it or her manipulate you into wimpy parenting.

I am sure I have missed some important issues for you and your daughter. I hope you’ll get back to me with a more specific question, and that my awesome readers will give you some of their valuable suggestions as well.

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2 thoughts on “Divorce and a Preteen Girl: It’s All About Me!”

  1. Barbara Ssmith

    My granddaughter is 11 years old and lives with her mother who has primary custody. She sees her father one night a week and every other weekend. She has been showing signs that she is very angry. She hit her 4 year old brother in the nose and physically thru a fit when she was made her go to her room. She then trashed her room and said she wanted to to live with her Dad. Her mom let her go for the night, thinking that maybe she needed to get away from her two brothers, ages 9 and 4. She has been so disrespectful to her mother. Her mom tends to get in a yelling match with her. We do not know what to do or what is making her so angry. She sees a therapist and likes going to talk to her but she still is wetting the bed and having bowel accidents. Do you have any advice as to how to help her deal with her anger?

    1. Barbara,

      This is a very painful and real issue. I will answer this in the next couple of weeks here on my site, with your permission. She is angry and wants to make everyone else feel a little bit of the misery she is feeling. In the meantime, it sounds like her mom and dad each need to spend some time with her with a family counselor in addition to whomever she is seeing.

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