When considering a divorce, the welfare of the children is extremely important. While most parents do focus on practical matters like where the children will live, and when they will see the non-custodial parent, there are other factors to consider. Just as divorce has long-term implications for the two adults involved, the event also has far reaching effects on the children. Here are some examples.
One of the first things that divorce triggers in children is a sense of guilt. All too often, the kids think that something they did has caused one of the parents to go away. There is a sense that if they could just take back whatever they did wrong, they could be a family again. Here, both parents must take steps to help the children see that the problem is with the adults, and the divorce is not due to anything the kids have done. This may take time and a lot of reassurance, but helping the kids to understand that both parents love them and will take care of them will go a long way in helping them heal from the trauma of the divorce.
Another common experience children go through with divorce is identifying one parent as the good one and the other parent as the bad one. This type of labeling usually makes it much harder for both parents to maintain a caring relationship with the kids. Both the custodial and non-custodial parent can minimize this type of labeling by refusing to disparage each other in the presence of the kids. Any disagreements that must take place can be done away from the eyes and ears of the kids. While it is okay to allow the children to vent any anger or resentment they feel about the divorce, it is important to remember that they deserve a relationship with both parents, no matter what each adult contributed to the breakup.
Children also sometimes question their ability to form lasting relationships. After all, if mom and dad were not able to make it work, what chances do they have? The custodial and non-custodial parent can help dispel some of those fears by making it a point to forge a new relationship that takes the place of the old one. If the kids see mom and dad are still cordial to one another, even when both parents have moved on to new romantic relationships, they will see that divorce is not necessarily a failure, but simply a door into a new type of relationship.
There are times when the divorced parents expect more of the children than they can reasonably provide. For example, the custodial parent may rely heavily on the kids for emotional support that is no longer provided by a spouse. This added responsibility may overwhelm the children, prompting them to begin withdrawing, and possibly entering into a period of rebellion. By remembering that children should not be expected to fill the gap left by divorce, it is much less likely that the kids will find themselves feeling this type of pressure.
In some situations, children react more immediately and violently to divorce. This may include anger and possibly physical aggression toward one or both parents, or be turned inward. When this happens, the child may try suicide or some form of self-mutilation as a means of venting the anger. Both parents must be mindful of any signs that the children’s anger or sense of hopelessness has reached a point where there is the chance of personal harm. Often, counseling can help the children begin to sort things out and step back from this dangerous place, and begin the process of healing.
Unfortunately, there is no ironclad list of what any given child will experience as the result of a divorce. In fact, some children find themselves much happier than they were when the marriage was intact. Both parents must be willing to be aware of what type of effect the divorce is having on the kids, and take steps to minimize the negative as much as possible. With time, love, patience, and continuing caring by both parents, a child can learn to adjust to the new living situation, and continue the march toward becoming a happy and well-adjusted adult.