The Impact of Divorce on Children

Divorce is one of the most powerful events that can affect a child in their young life. The basis of their life stability has been rocked for reasons they cannot fully grasp or comprehend at their age. I have seen this first hand as some close friends have separated and prepared for divorce. The pair has attempted reconciliation through family counseling, but even that process wears at the children’s psyche.

Some parents see divorce as solely a "grown-ups" issue. It’s common to hear one party say, "We just can’t get along anymore," or "She has been unfaithful." It is an unfortunate fact that divorce reaches beyond that into every aspect of the couple’s life and leave many people in a very difficult situation. The marital relationship has far reaching ramifications for children, extended families, friends, and others. Children, because of their impressionable minds and inability to fully comprehend the circumstances, are usually hit the hardest. The following are some perspectives on the views of children in a divorcing family.

  • Fear of Change: The children in a divorcing family may not understand why things are happening, but they generally know that nothing will be the same again. Their secure world is in flux – everything from bed times, meal times, school routines, and extended families may be altered in this state of upheaval.
  • Fear of Abandonment: When mom and dad are at odds and are either separated or considering separation, children can experience a heightened fear of abandonment. They may feel that if they lose one parent, they may lose the other, leaving them alone in the world. That feeling of isolation is one of the scariest prospects for a child to face.
  • Losing Attachment: Along with their parents, children may also fear losing other secure relationships – friends, pets, siblings, neighbors, and so on. If children are very attached to their surroundings, moving into a new environment can cause an understandable negative reaction.
  • Coping with Parental Tension: Even though many divorces follow years of friction between the husband and wife, tension levels typically increase during and shortly after a divorce. Some parents try to turn their children against the other spouse, creating an absolutely impossible situation for the child to handle.

It is possible that children will cope with the divorce process in an unhealthy way. Parents should take the time to understand what their children are thinking and feeling as the divorce moves along. Certain actions and attitudes are commonplace in children who have a difficult time coping with divorce. Some of these danger signs include:

  • Trying to Bring Parents Back Together: Some children mistakenly believe that the parents breakup is their fault. These children typically either act out in a negative way or attempt to be the perfect child so that the parents won’t need or want tot divorce.
  • Aggression and Defiance: Some parents may believe that this is normal behavior even when there are no marital differences. The key is to be aware of uncharacteristic aggression in children. If they are more angry and uncooperative than usual, that’s a definite red flag for parents.
  • Depression and Withdrawal: For many children, their method of coping to familial stress is withdrawing or showing distinct signs of depression, including hermit-like behavior, early signs of eating disorders, and discussion or treats of suicide.

There are ways to help mitigate the impact of divorce on children. If a child is responding negatively, it’s nearly impossible to make the effects disappear completely. However, there are ways to make the situation more tolerable and secure for a child, including:

  • Staying Involved: It does little good for one parent to work along at reassurance. Both parents must try to help the children understand that both parents will:
    • Still be their parents
    • Act like parents
    • Discipline them when needed
    • Protect them from harm
    • Follow consistent rules
    • Not lean on the child for support, but will instead provide support for the child
    • Love the child and remain in the child’s life
  • Showing Respect for One Another: An ample amount of research suggest that children do better when their divorcing parents treat each other respectfully and civilly. Even if the anger burns inside or you feel wronged by the divorce process, it is not appropriate to communicate that to children. Friends, family, and bartenders are ideal choices for venting, but not children.
  • Keeping a Routine: Children feel more secure when there is a standard routine. Bedtimes, chores, playtime, and other such items should be kept consistent, no matter which home the child is at. This allows the child to view regular times as sacred time spent with a parent.
  • Getting Help When Needed: Many resources can provide help for your children. If your employer has an Employee Assistance Program, make use of it when needed. If you sense that your child needs professional help or therapy, don’t hesitate to get started. There are always issues that a parent cannot handle entire alone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting a little bit of outside help.

Children remain the most innocent of bystanders when it comes to divorce. Regardless of how justified the reasons may be for divorce, parents must understand their responsibility to minimize its potential impact on children. The process and transition for children will never be completely smooth, but there are ways to make this major life change as easy as humanly possible.

SOURCE: Moschetti Family Law