Helping my daughter deal with the harsh reality of her broken heart tops the list as one of my most dreaded challenges as a parent. Since my daughter was very young my job, as “the ultimate fixer,” had always been to swoop down, wrap my arms around her like a shield of armor and rescue her from her pain, whether it be physical or emotional.
But, this time it was different…
This wasn’t a skinned knee, an argument with a close friend or a failed test – all of which I had years of training and knew exactly how to handle at the drop of a hat. This was much bigger.
Not only was she older and learning how to stand on her own two feet, which meant my typical “fix all” approach wasn’t the best route to take, I quickly realized that this wasn’t something that could be fixed, at least not with the same swift stroke of my magical mom wand that had worked so beautifully for so many years.
It wasn’t as if I could take her out for ice cream, give her a pep talk or take her to the mall for a mini shopping spree and it would somehow make all of her pain disappear and miraculously make everything better. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in order to get over this hurdle, it was going to require a totally different parenting approach.
To help my daughter through this difficult challenge I had to step back, refrain from giving her mounds of advice, (which she really didn’t want to hear anyway), support her and help her handle the situation as opposed to trying to handle it for her. I needed to offer her comfort and perhaps a tad of gentle guidance, if she was accepting, along with a non-judgmental listening ear to help cushion her fall.
As a parent of a teen who’s been through it, when a teenager’s love relationship goes south, to them, it can feel like the end of the world. One moment they’re relishing in the flush of romance and the next, they’re behind closed doors sobbing over lost love. What makes matters worse is that most teens haven’t quite developed the necessary coping mechanisms or adult perspective to deal with such a harsh challenge.
To offer the support and love your teen needs without trying to “take over” the situation and fix it, here’s a few valuable lessons I learned while helping my daughter through her breakup.
Validate Their Feelings
More than anything, your child just needs you to “be there.” Rather than trying to fix the situation, focus on being as supportive as possible. Validate their feelings by letting them know you understand what they’re going through and how difficult it is for them and give them the freedom to grieve the loss of the relationship in their own way, in their own time. The grief felt after the loss of a relationship can be very difficult, especially for teenagers who are often ill-equipped to handle the heavy emotion of a breakup.
Also, stand prepared for more than a few rocky days ahead and potentially a long journey of recovery. Depending on how long and involved the relationship was, it can take days, weeks, months and in some cases, longer for your teen to get back on their feet and feel completely normal again.
Be Available to Listen and Talk
The days, weeks and months after the breakup may be laden with a rash of emotion along with plenty of highs and lows. One minute your child may seem completely back to normal ready to take on the world and the next they could be extremely down escaping to the solitude of their bedroom. If and when they’re in the mood to talk, whether it be about the breakup or any other topic of conversation, be available to listen and talk about whatever is on your teen’s mind. Do your best to avoid being intrusive when they need their space and take cues from your child. If he or she feels like opening up and engaging in conversation, be ready. If not, give them their space.
In the many conversations I’ve had with other parents who’ve been through breakups with their teens, although guys and girls oftentimes feel the same emotions inwardly, how they deal with them outwardly is completely different. Girls tend to be far more emotional and oftentimes more talkative, whereas guys are notorious for putting up the tough guy “I didn’t really care about her anyway” front even though behind the scenes they may be struggling through the process.
Don’t Try to Talk Them Out of Feeling Bad
There’s nothing worse than having someone try to talk you out of your misery after a breakup. Even if the relationship was brief or your child wasn’t treated well in the relationship, breaking up is still hard. Your child may be clinging to the good times they had with their ex, memories they shared or even the fantasy of what they had hoped for in the relationship – either way, getting over their ex is a process that takes time. Even if you’ve found it’s been weeks, for instance, since your child has smiled or laughed, you still need to give your child the freedom to “feel” and work through the process at his or her own pace, not yours.
Don’t Probe About What Happened
As a parent, the minute we think our child has been hurt, either physically or emotionally, our natural reaction is to get to the core of their pain and “fix it.” However, now is not the time to be asking a mound of questions about what happened, regardless of how tempting it might be. I know… you’re dying to know all the nitty-gritty details, and that’s totally normal. But, right now your teen needs a non-judgmental listening ear, patience and quite often, just your presence – not your opinion or suggestions, (unless, of course, they specifically ask for your opinion), and certainly not your continued probing about what (or whom) contributed to the collapse of the relationship.
Be Careful Not to Criticize the Ex
Young love can be very tumultuous and dramatic at times. Keep in mind that while it might be easy to throw a few stones (figuratively speaking, of course) at your teen’s ex, it’s definitely not the smartest idea. Regardless of how badly your teen’s ex may have hurt your child, just remember two things. One, there are always two sides to every story and two, there’s always the possibility that they’ll get back together after the storm clears. The last thing you need to do is to be putting your two cents in about how awful your teen’s ex is only to have them standing in your kitchen a week later. So, although it’s okay to be voicing your opinion if your teen welcomes it, choose your words wisely or you may be eating them in due time.
Encourage Healthy Diversions
While it’s true you shouldn’t be weighing in on the situation and passing along your parental tips on how your child can “get over” their ex swiftly, if you see your teen sinking into a depressed state, which isn’t uncommon, gently encourage them to maintain some sense of normalcy in their life by staying active, hanging out with friends or engaging in activities they enjoy. Because some teens leap into a rebound relationship, use alcohol and sometimes even drugs as an unhealthy crutch to deal with the pain or get over an ex, it’s important to keep an eye on your child and encourage healthy diversions. Simple things like joining a health club, getting outdoors, going on a weekend get-a-way with friends, taking up a new hobby, or tackling a cool project can all be healthy diversions to help your teen take their mind off of how miserable they’re feeling without jumping into something they might later regret.
Remind Your Child That These Things Take Time
Teens today are wired for instant gratification and results which explains why so many kids put an immense amount of pressure on themselves to “get over” a break up quickly. Remind your teen, and this one is an important one, that drowning out their emotions and grief by pretending it doesn’t exist or piling on a ton of diversions isn’t a healthy route to take. Just like there are stages when you lose a loved one to death, the death of a relationship also takes time that involves various normal stages. If your child seems frustrated with themselves for feeling sad or not having the willpower to get past their heartache, it’s important to remind them that they need to give themselves the latitude to “feel their feelings” and try not to fight it. Also, remind them that time is the greatest healer of pain. Although some pain is never completely eradicated from our life despite how much time it’s given, time has a way of slowly reducing the sting associated with pain, loss, and heartache.
Boost Their Self-Confidence
All too often breakups have a way of peeling back raw layers of emotion. Despite how hard your child may be trying to manage the situation, their self-esteem may take a beating making it a time of intense emotional vulnerability. Focus on building your child back up and helping them keep a strong sense of self-worth with words of encouragement and compliments. They need to be reminded that they’re valued, special, that they’ll find someone one day who will truly appreciate and love all of their wonderful qualities and attributes and they need to hear that you’re proud of them for facing this challenge with strength and resilience. Above all, they need to hear that you love them.
Breakups: A Path of Self-Discovery
It’s so hard to see our kids facing such adult emotions at a young age. But, be thankful that issues such as this are happening while your child is still living under your roof where you can guide them, offer support and help them establish healthy coping mechanisms to deal with the heartache.
As difficult as it might be watching your child go through the agony of a breakup, chances are you’ll find that this hardship will actually help them become stronger, more mature, and better equipped to navigate future relationships.
This path, although challenging, is a path of self-discovery. Not only are they learning more about relationships and how complicated they can be, they’re learning about themselves as they navigate their way through their recovery.
Above all, despite how crummy your child is feeling now, so many of us have been through similar heartache at one point or another in our lives, and we realize (from our adult perspective), that eventually “this too shall pass” and they’ll be stronger and wiser as a result of it. In the meantime, just be there for your child, offer them the support they need and remind them how much they’re loved while they weather this storm (one of many to come) in their life.
Don’t confuse your path with your destination. Just because it’s stormy now doesn’t mean the sun isn’t just beyond the horizon.”