Dear Susan,

I am 13 and my parents just told us that they are getting divorced. It is very tense in our house. My mother and me are moving out but my brothers are staying with my Dad. I don’t want to move, but I have no choice. I am going to have to go to a new school and make all new friends. I know other kids who have gone through it and some of them got really messed up. I hope that’s not what will happen to me.

Name withheld, London area


I am really, really sorry to hear that your parents are separating. This must be a sad, scary and very frustrating experience for you. But the fact that you wrote to me, also tells me that you are a very resourceful person!

You are realizing that there are going to be big changes made to your life and you have observed that not everyone has the same ability to adapt to change, especially when they never asked for changes in the first place! Your observations are right on target, but let me reassure you, it isn’t random. You have some control over whether you get messed up, or not!

Studies have shown that people who cope well with adversity and stress seem to have a few beliefs in common.

First, they have a ‘commitment belief’, they want to be involved in ongoing events, rather than allowing themselves to feel isolated.

So, be careful not to withdraw and avoid your family at this time. Don’t stay in your room or stay home watching TV. Participate in activities and events as they come up. They may be activities like apartment hunting, or outings to buy packing tape and supplies, not the most fun perhaps, but it does keep you involved!

Second, people are more successful at adapting to change when they have a ‘control attitude’, which makes them want to influence outcomes, rather than accepting whatever, in a helpless or passive way. Can you ask your parents to allow you to participate in the decision-making process, whenever possible? Perhaps you can research schools or activities in your new neighborhood, to find out which ones may be most suitable or interesting to you? I am sure that you will be having visits with your Dad and brothers, but would your parents allow you to have some say over what that schedule will look like?

Finally, people who handle stress well, also seem to have a ‘challenge attitude’ which leads then to view stress and changes as opportunities for new learning.

You have probably already learned that parental divorce can have a painful and confusing effect on children. Make a list of other things you have already learned, and keep that list going as you begin your new life. You never know, you may make a new friend at school who will be going through the exact same process. He or she could probably really use some of the information that you will have on your list, plus, because of this experience, you will understand exactly what your new friend is going through. That will make you a very valuable friend and will probably make you feel good that with your knowledge, you are able to help someone else!

Things will be different but that does not mean that it has to be all bad. Change is a process, so try to keep your eyes open to all the positive things that happen in your new life, that would never have otherwise come about.