What are the Effects of Divorce on Children?
Each year, over a million American children suffer the divorce of their parents. The effects of divorce can create irreparable harm to all involved, but especially to the children of those families. The negative effects of divorce have become one of the most frequent environmental stressors experienced by children.
It can create a weakened parent-child relationship, initiating another "divorce", one that’s between a parent and their child. As a parent, you may go through significant changes in your lifestyle, routine, duties and responsibilities, and often may have significantly less resources, financially, socially and/or economically, to rely on for support. Additionally, your availability to address the needs of your children may also be curtailed due to limited time constraints now imposed on you.
This doesn’t mean that you must stay in an irretrievable marriage, especially one devoid of love and filled with hostility. Choosing to remain in a volatile marital relationship, and one that your children see, hear and feel, can have long lasting psychological effects on their social, educational and emotional development. And if you don’t think your children know what is going on in your tumultuous marriage, you are sadly mistaken. Children are becoming more aware and are often talking amongst their siblings and friends. Many of their friends may even have parents who have divorced.
As parents, we have a unique responsibility and obligation to give to our children the tools to become all they can be--to show them by example in an environment that nurtures them to the fullest.
So how do you do that while going through a divorce? You Must Remember Your “Bs”, and adhere to them, regardless of circumstances. What are the “Bs”? They are as follows:
Be Respectful of your child’s other parent. Remember, your child is half mom, half dad. Your child identifies with both of you, if he or she doesn’t then that should also be of concern. When a parent denigrates the other in front of their child, or within the hearing of the child, that parent is undermining their child’s self-identity, self-respect and confidence. When criticism is directed at a child’s parent, the child often feels that it’s also directed at him or her. If you are ever tempted to do so, step back and ask yourself, is something positive about to come from the words you desperately want to express? Probably not. If you need to vent, find some quiet place to go and scream, far from others. After all, venting can be therapeutic; but not venting to your spouse.
Don’t use your children as messengers between you and your former spouse. First and foremost, your children didn’t choose that role and don’t want to be functioning in that capacity. Don’t put extra responsibilities on them just to make your life easier. As children, they have enough on their plates. Let them feast on their menu, and not worry about communicating messages that you wanted them to pass on, how you wanted them to pass it on or speculating why you wanted them to communicate some message. Otherwise, you may be opening up opportunities for your message to be inadvertently altered or misinterpreted. It’s always best to communicate directly with the one to whom the message is intended.
The effects of divorce on children can last for years, as a parent you can help lessen the impact divorce has on them. Children going through a divorce need to know that they are loved and that they are not to blame for your marital conflicts. Children often feel responsible for the divorce, thinking that only if they had done this, or not done that, somehow their family would have remained intact. Further, they don’t need to feel responsible for ongoing hostility that may surface post-divorce between their parents. Comfort them; let them know they are loved, and always will be.
Be Flexible and Generous
Although your court order for parenting time will have specified days and times for each parent to be with the children, most orders also have preamble language to those specified times that says something similar to the following: “IT IS ORDERED that the conservators (the legal term to reference the parents) shall have possession of the children at all times mutually agreeable to in advance by the parties, and in the absence of mutual agreement, it is ORDERED that the conservators shall have possession of the children under the specified terms set out in this Order”. These specified times establish consistency and stability in the children’s lives, so parents can plan ahead and know when their court ordered time is with the children, and so there is enforceability of the order for both parents, to preserve their time.
However, don’t forget the preamble language when dealing with your ex-spouse’s request for deviation from the order. If he or she requests to change weekends because of a scheduling conflict or because they want to take the children to a family reunion, be flexible. Remember the golden rule we were all taught, and treat your former spouse’s request as you would want him or her to treat yours. Believe me, there will come a time that you wish to alter your time also, due to unforeseen events out of your control. Try to not keep score as to who has altered the order more, or who owes the other an extra day, or even an extra hour. Emphasize quality, over quantity. And if you get a day, or a weekend off from the children, enjoy your time. Take advantage of the time to get rejuvenated, so you will be a more energized parent upon their return.
Further, do everything within your power to accommodate the visitation. Energize and prepare your children, especially if they are younger, that they have special time coming up with the other parent, and emphasize the fun they will have. At every opportunity, remember that your children’s interests, not yours, are paramount. Also, make the exchange of the children between the parents quick; don’t linger as that just creates more uncertainty for the children and a possible fear within them that they’re being disloyal to one parent.
Be the Adult
Your children may be worried about you and your emotional state, especially if you discuss this with them or reveal your emotions or feelings through your body language. Your child or children may be tempted to act as your caretaker. Don’t ever let them do this. They have enough to worry about in their little lives; they don’t need this burden, and are usually not equipped to handle such issues. Let your children be children.
If you have an issue with alcohol or drugs, get counseling right away. If you have anger issues, recognize it and get professional help to deal with these issues. The same thing applies to depression. You can’t reach your full potential as a parent if you don’t address the issues you have, and become a healthy version of you. Forget about issues you perceive your former spouse may have. You can’t control or address those issues. Deal with what you can address, and get healthy. Your children need, and deserve nothing less.
If you are the non-custodial parent, pay your child support, do so willingly and without involving your children in the fact you are doing so or reveal the amount you are paying. What is the purpose in informing them? An attempt to alienate or belittle the other parent? The loss of income after divorce puts many children at a financial disadvantage. Don’t add to it.
If your children have additional financial needs that they come to you about, like sports or summer camp, let them know you’ll discuss that issue with their other parent. Then, do so, and make the decision jointly with that parent, if you can. And if you can’t, don’t tell them who did or didn’t contribute. Nothing good can come from such dialog.
If you are the custodial parent, then don’t tell the children that their other parent is late with child support, or failed to pay at all. Don’t call that person derogatory names. Remember that whatever you say negatively about the other parent is likely to have a negative effect on your child’s perception of your former spouse.
Be a Role Model
If you have a significant other in your life, be conscious about when and how to introduce that person to your children. Remember that your children’s best interest should always be paramount to yours. Your children are going through a divorce also. They are experiencing the fracture of their family as they knew, and need time to adjust and heal, so give them that time.
Don’t introduce someone to your children until you know that this new relationship is serious. You have plenty of time without your children to meet your personal needs. They don’t need to experience a revolving door of relationships, or to become attached to a new person in your life, to then have that person disappear and suffer the effects of another loss. When the time is right, talk with your significant other in advance about how this meeting should go. You will also need to talk to your significant other about that person’s role in the children’s lives. You should always be the parent, with your significant other being the step parent, taking a secondary supporting role. Lastly, NEVER, EVER do anything to let your children think this new person is replacing their other parent. There is simply no replacement for a parent. Emphasize the beauty and benefits of having additional ones to love them and to share times, not replace.
Be a Stable
If at all possible, don’t uproot your children from their lives any more than necessary. Try to remain in the same schools, in the same neighborhood and with the same sports teams. Consistency and stability are critical for children, especially ones going through a divorce. If you must make changes, make the less disruptive ones. And make sacrifices for your children. If you have to move, and away from their friends, make the effort to keep them on the same sports team, if possible, and drive them to their practices and games even if it’s inconvenient. Make play dates with their old friends. Studies reveal that maintaining as much consistency and stability will reduce the effects of divorce on your children and allow them to adjust better in their post-divorce lives.