I’m Sorry My Kid Was A Jerk During My Divorce

My ex-husband and I weren’t even separated for a month when my son, 15, got caught skipping class. A few weeks later, he got suspended for smoking pot in front of the school with an older kid. Then, our dog died. It was a horrible year, and on top of everything else, I was in and out of his school every week, having meetings with teachers, picking him up early because he’d gotten into a fight or got caught posting something on SnapChat.

The son I’d known for 15 years was nowhere to be found. And I knew exactly what had happened: His world had been turned upside down. When my ex and I told the kids we were getting a divorce, he took it the hardest. He is my oldest and has always been my most independent child, but he wears his heart on his sleeve. I think all the emotions he was feeling were very difficult for him to process. He shut down, cried a lot, and was so angry he punched a hole in the wall.

I got him into counseling. I worked closely with his teachers, and we stayed in touch weekly through email. I took his phone away and told him he couldn’t hang out with his friends until he turned things around. I knew he was struggling with the divorce, but I wanted him to know that wasn’t an excuse for him to act like a jerk. And yet the behavior continued.

As the months went on, I started getting looks from other parents at sporting events. I knew people were talking about my son and his behavior. I felt alone and judged. So did my son. Friends we had known for years were neither sympathetic toward him nor his situation. At one point, he even said to me, “Everyone thinks I’m a bad kid now, and everything has been taken away from me, so why would I do what I’m supposed to do?”

That entire experience taught me a lesson about teenagers acting out: chances are, they’re going through something really hard. Happy people

I know my son was out of line many times during the two years that followed. He was a great kid who was acting out of character. Divorce rocks a kid’s foundation. He did not yet have the skills to process all of these hard feelings and situations that were forced upon him without it coming out sideways.

His teachers showed him the most compassion, and they were the heroes for him during these years. They’ve seen kids struggle, and they have empathy and tools for dealing with different behaviors. I’m so thankful for their generosity, and watching how they treated my child taught me a lot about how to treat a kid who is acting like a jerk.

The thing to understand is that bad behavior is often a cry for help, and the last thing these kids need is judgment. A little sympathy and understanding will do more good than pointing the finger and whispering behind their back. Instead of just chalking their stunts up to being a bad kid and assuming their parents are just lazy and not doing enough to “control” them, maybe take another point of view — that the teenagers are dealing with hard stuff. I’m sorry if my kid was a jerk, but he had more on his plate than he deserved.

There’s a million things that could be happening at home when a kid starts acting up: unhappy parents, divorce, health issues, financial stress. All of these potential scenarios add up to teenagers feeling unsure or unsafe at home. Add that into the mix of just being a hormonal teenager and it’s a lot. They could be going through something really serious and that’s scary.

The next time your child comes home, talking about how awful some kid is, remember that they might be going through something really difficult. And showing them a little empathy might go a really long way. Don’t join the choir of parents saying this kid is a “bad” kid. Stand up for the kid, the parents and allow us all a little room to make some mistakes. Showing everyone a little empathy can go a really long way.

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