Dealing with divorce

Finding out that your parents are divorcing or separating can give rise to many strong emotions. The Mix gives examples of common reactions and how to deal with them.

Picture of boy looking intense

"Which emotion is this?"

Here are some of the feelings you may experience:

Shock and disbelief

Even if you’ve long suspected your folks might split, hearing it for real can still hit you hard. You may feel unprepared to handle the emotions that follow, and even try to act like it’s not really happening.

Sort it: Shock is a natural response to a situation when you haven’t had a chance to get your head around things. It will pass, but in the meantime it’s important not to shut yourself away, or put up barriers between you and your parents. Keep the lines of communication open and talk your feelings through. It’s the only way to make sense of them.

Sadness and grief

It has often been suggested that dealing with divorce comes second only to dealing with a death in the family. If one parent leaves home then it can feel as if they’ve gone for good. For some the grief can be just as intense as if they were dealing with bereavement, yet you’re unlikely to get the same kind of sympathy and understanding which comes when someone passes away.

Sort it: In some ways you have suffered a loss, and it’s important to grieve. Crying is a perfectly natural response. It’s a physical way of expressing intense feelings of sadness. In time, however, and with understanding from all involved, things will become more manageable. Just make sure you keep in touch with the absent parent and see them as much as you want.


Many people report feeling resentful towards their parents once the split is out in the open. It can certainly feel as if they’ve dumped their problems on you, and forced you to confront a situation you didn’t even want to see happening. If this is the case, don’t block out the fact that your mum and dad aren’t separating to make you feel bad, but to make everyone feel better in the long run.

Sort it: An effective way to get anger under control is to find a way of letting a bit of it out. Just as long as no one else gets hurt by anything you say or do. So go ahead, let off steam. You’ll feel better afterwards.


It’s natural to look back on the past and feel that somehow you might be responsible. Even though children are never to blame when parents separate, it’s easy to think that had you behaved a little differently they’d still be together.

Sort it: Face facts: if your folks were going to split up, there’s nothing you could have done to stop them. They won’t be separating because of you. Nothing you have done could drive that kind of wedge between your parents.


If the split puts an end to all the arguments and tension in your house, it’s only natural to be relieved. Don’t feel bad, just seek to understand why you feel this way. Perhaps violence has played a part in the marriage breaking down, in which case one parent leaving will understandably put an end to a great deal of grief and suffering.

Sort it: Relief is often the last thing you’d expect to experience when your parents part company. But if it means you can all set about getting on with your lives then why shouldn’t you feel that the worst is over?


A parental split can often threaten to undermine your own foundations. When the two people you pretty much thought of as one go their separate ways, the future can seem quite uncertain.

Sort it: In many ways your mum and dad’s decision to split will actually bring them both closer to you. Parents are generally aware of how seriously the breakdown of their marriage affects their children. Having been preoccupied with sorting out their own problems, now they will make themselves more available for you. Often it’s this experience which binds you together. They might be ending their marriage, but don’t for a minute think that your parents are splitting from you. If you’re worried about how you’ll fit into the divorce process, read our article on how divorce works.

Photo of stressed boy by volunteer photographer Ollie Pitt.

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divorce| parents


Updated on 29-Sep-2015