How Divorce Affects Children
You may long to read studies announcing that an impending marital split won’t affect the kids. Most divorcing parents would love to find evidence that divorces don’t mark kids. But even common sense tells you that isn’t true.
Divorce is stressful for everyone involved, including kids from tots to teens. But the way you and your spouse handle your divorce will either make the process less painful for them. Or it will make it harder.
How Kids React to Divorce
Children change, yet have no control over the divorce shaking up their family. Kids want things to stay as they are, even if things are not that good. They fear losing contact with a parent. They dread their parents’ anger with each other. They worry about the disruption in their own lives. Then there’s the possibility of a decline in family finances, the risk of losing their home. They also fear being called upon to take sides in the divorce battle.
Divorce anxiety affects children in different ways, depending on their personalities and ages. Across the board, divorce increases the risk that children develop behavioral issues. If a child is already troubled, he is especially prone to have anger issues during a divorce. His disobedience and rule violations may increase, and school performance decrease. Sensitive children can suffer long-term depression and anxiety. Older kids can turn into “little parents” who feel responsible for their sad parents.
However, don’t panic. When parents behave appropriately during and after the divorce, their kids usually do okay. Most children of divorce do not experience extreme behavior problems or emotional issues. Many children from broken homes are strong and resilient enough to make it through a divorce relatively intact. They develop like ordinary kids whose parents do not divorce, functioning well in and out of school. They can go on to lead happy lives.
You and your spouse can limit the negative affect your divorce will have on your kids if you make it a priority. Modeling good parenting behavior in a time of personal crisis isn’t easy, but if you care about your children, it’s worth the effort.
What’s a Divorcing Parent to Do?
As a divorcing parent, you will not be able to protect your kids from the pain and sorrow of divorce. But pain and sadness are natural in this situation, when life as it was is ending. It is perhaps for the best that you cannot take away your children’s pain or block it or erase it. It may be their first experience of loss, but it surely will not be the last. Children, like adults, must move through the changes life brings and are entitled to grieve their losses.
However, make no mistake about it: The choices you make during the divorce will either help your kids to cope or make it harder for them to heal. It may not make sense to stay in an unhappy marriage “for the kids”, but their emotional landscape should be on your mind during every single step you take toward ending your marriage.
Experts in divorce have identified the behavior patterns that help and hurt kids during divorce. The second article in this series discusses those rules of the road. The next articles discuss how to keep on the high road during custody, visitation and child support discussions.
The final article helps you find help when you want to behave civilly but your spouse is hostile. There is more assistance available than you may be aware of.