Dear Your Teen:
My parents are getting divorced and my brother idealizes my father and hates my mother. No matter what my mother does she can’t win. How can she demand respect while showing love? And my dad is playing my brother against my mom. Should I shatter the image he has of my dad? Also my relationship with my dad is broken right now. I guess my brother chose my dad and I chose my mom. How can I try to mend the relationship with my dad? How can I begin to have an ongoing relationship with him?
You have brought up an issue that is, unfortunately, a common one for many teenagers and children of divorce. It is hard to be caught in the middle of so many people whom you love while trying to please and satisfy each of them. Your brother has seemingly “sided” with your dad and wants to remain close with him but in order to do this he must listen to the negativity your dad expresses about your mother. He is taking it to heart. You feel he is placing all the blame for the divorce on your mother when in fact the truth is there are multiple perspectives to be seen here. Both of your parents have hurt each other in some way through this divorce and are now letting it out and expressing their views to the two of you from their own perspective only.
Talking through the family divides
What you can do is sit down with your brother and discuss the different perspectives that are coming into play. Say to him, “What if we just for now agree not to choose sides and instead try to understand where each parent is coming from? Maybe let’s give each of them more openness.” Nothing is black and white. Try to impress upon him the idea of understanding, in a non-judgmental way, how each of your parents view the divorce. Just like the two of you see your relationship with your parents differently, so too do your parents. You can go further and suggest that you will try to have a more open relationship with your dad and he can try to have a more open relationship with your mom. Remember everyone has different perspectives.
During the divorce you can often feel that you need to choose one parent’s side over the other and that’s what seems to have happened here. Trying to mend and repair this relationship is something that can be extremely beneficial but will need to be done with a lot of thought. You will need to have an open, honest, adult relationship with your dad. You can say to him that when you’re together you don’t want to hear negative things about your mom and that you don’t want to be put in the middle of their arguments or act as messenger between them. Give him terms that are respectful both to him and to yourself. If he can respect these boundaries, you are both off to a good start in establishing the permanence you will have in each other’s lives while in a healthy and mutually beneficial way.
Esther Neuman holds a master’s degree in social work, is the co-creator of the Neuman Method (NeumanMethod.com), and speaks publicly on relationships and adolescent issues. She is available for in-person and private online therapy and life coaching at email@example.com.