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.