When a couple splits, there isn’t always a whole lot of thought given to how the children in the relationship will be affected. Ironically, there are a whole lot of parents on the brink of divorce that hold tight in their unhappiness until the kids are older, feeling as if the divorce won’t have such a dramatic affect on the kids if they wait. Yet, it still does.
Talk to a grown daughter or son with a family of his own, whose parents are divorced and you can see the ripple effect of divorce lasts for decades. Family gatherings and holidays can be more difficult, the grandchildren can be confused to say the least, the grown children will often feel guilt and shame if they spend more time with one parent than another and a host of other ‘problems’ are almost always evident in families victimized by divorce.
For many families, the timing of divorce is critical to knowing how the separation will affect the kids. Custody battles and divorce proceedings aside there are some basic developmental issues that are almost always present in kids whose parent’s divorce, which vary according to age. The American Academy of Pediatric Psychology provides us with a telling roadmap that can help parents understand just how their child may react.
For instance, a child between the ages of 3-5 will often regress in the face of a parental split. Many parents notice that their child retreats to a milestone already passed. A thumb-sucker may start sucking his or her thumb again. Your child may demand for a bottle, want to sleep in your bed or even start feeling the pains of separation anxiety again. Sleep is routinely disturbed and children this age suffer from chronic issues normally associated with grief. Remember, that a young child doesn’t understand that you and your partner didn’t get along, that an affair occurred or that differences were irreconcilable. Divorcing can literally make 3 5 year old feel unsafe and insecure. Yes, with counseling and parents who are willing to deal with the issues together in a mature manner, the child will recover. But it does take time.
Children at the ages of 6 8, also enter into a grieving process when parents divorce. If custody arrangements are sporadic, or one parent seems to disappear from their life, it is common for the child to grieve the ‘loss’ of this person that they love. Kids will also think creatively and try to make up ways to get you and your partner back together, not willing to understand that the situation is a permanent one.
An 8 year old will also grieve but will likely act out in anger. They will likely be ‘mad’ at the parent who they feel is responsible for the break-up. If they live with mom during the week, they will be angry with dad, seeing his inability to be there as a personal rejection. It is also extremely common for an 8 11 year old child to take on the roles of the parent who left. They may try to comfort you, or ‘be strong’ for you when on the inside they are hurting immensely. Since they feel that verbalizing their anger would only further hurt the parent they are with, most children refrain and exhibit the behavior in other platforms like school.
The adolescents can be the hardest hit by divorce. Parents often think that since they are older, they can understand the reasons behind the divorce. Truth is they cannot. A child between the ages 12 18 whose parents divorce should be watched extremely carefully for signs of depression, drug use, and violent anger outbursts. These children have likely been around long enough to see the problems in the marriage firsthand (which has also affected them gravely), and will often try to judge the behavior of the parent they feel at fault. It is common for a teen to totally rebuke seeing one parent over the other during the first 12 months following a divorce. Additionally, they may see the parent’s inability to remain married as a failure and one that seemingly marks them for a disastrous marriage themselves. Teens commonly begin clinging to romantic relationships in their own life, are prone to sexual promiscuity, and have a 45% higher chance of becoming pregnant as a teen, running away or remaining with an abusive partner immediately following a parental divorce.
Psychologists agree that the degree of outward reactions from child range from medium to extreme. Largely, the mental and emotional state of your child depends on how well the parents work things out. This is why it is vital for parents to keep the relationship issues between the adults, strictly between the adults! Parents should refrain from using their children as sounding boards, should remain optimistic in a child’s presence, and do their best to make the kids understand that BOTH parents have their best interests at heart.
And aside from the emotional issues, there are plenty of other problems that divorce can cause for children as well. Children are often required to adjust to a new home, a new school, and the absence of many people they love in their life (grandparents, cousins, aunts, pets, and even some friends). Family traditions chance. Financial situations for families normally change after divorce causing the kids to ‘have less.’ Additionally, their caretakers may change; their schedule will be affected as well as everything that they do. Regardless of how hard parents try to keep things routine, the truth is that the effects of divorce spill into every single aspect of a child’s life and a new routine must be formed to replace the old one. This can be tough and parents will often find their kids fighting them every step of the way.
Sadly, these consequences to children are exactly why parents tend to wait until the kids are older to go their separate ways. Yet allowing your children to grow up witnessing an unhappy and unhealthy relationship, forcing them to deal with parents who are rarely happy, and using them as a ‘reason’ to stay unhappy is not a good idea either. There are plenty of support groups, psychologists, counselors, and assistance available for all the members of a family involved in a divorce. This people and organizations will not only help you to do the right things during the transitional months, but also enable your children to have an impartial outlet where they can speak their mind, ease their worries and learn how to deal with the varied emotions they will feel.