Understanding The Effects Of Divorce On Children
Updated July 12, 2019
When a mother and father divorce, the effect of divorce on child behavior can take many forms. The negative effect of divorce on children can extend past the initial emotional reactions of sadness, anger, and resentment.
Children of divorced parents are more likely to suffer academically or to end up in trouble with the law later on. Of course, not all children of divorce react to the situation the same way, but divorce and children statistics show that the odds of a child suffering more long-term effects of his or her parents splitting up are rather high.
How Does Divorce Affect Children?
Depending on the age of the child, divorce can have a different effect on him or her. If he is an adolescent, for example, divorce may be easier because he or she has already come into their form of independence, while a younger child still depends on his or her parents for more things.
So, if the child wakes up from a nightmare and wants Daddy to comfort him, Daddy may now live in a different house, which can be very unsettling for the child. However, a teenager who has moved past the nightmare phase may have an easier time doing things for himself than if he were younger when his parents divorced.
However, adolescents can have a hard time with divorce, too. For one thing, teenagers whose parents get divorced are more likely to abuse illicit substances, have sex, and get in trouble with the law. This is because they are unsure of who to turn to, or how, and so they channel their grief into debaucheries.
Another reason for this kind of downward spiral is that some households drop down to one income when parents get divorced, which puts the children in that household at a risk of living in poverty that is five times higher than that of children who live with both parents.
Children in school, no matter the age, may see a decline in their academic performance. Their grades may slip, and they may refrain from participating in any recreational or after-school sports or activities because they are distracted by what is going on at home.
Not every child whose parents are divorcing gets bad grades. In fact, some go on to become academic achievers, with scholarships to prestigious schools. However, as more research has been conducted into this area, it appears that even children who do well in school and who would otherwise appear unaffected by the divorce may suffer long-term trauma beneath the surface.
Divorce And Its Related Health Effects
Children may internalize their sadness and anger when their parents are going through a divorce. This can cause them to get sick more often, and to recover slower than they would have if they weren't under so much stress.
Of course, psychological issues also play a part and may develop into long-term conditions. For instance, children of divorce may be more likely to succumb to conditions brought on by a traumatic event, like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or phobias. Children may also feel like they are to blame for the divorce, and they may become confused as to which parent they're expected to be loyal to. This is especially true if the parents involve the children in the animosity that exists between them, as opposed to civilly co-parenting the children.
Children of divorce are also more likely to get cancer. This is because they are more likely to partake in activities like smoking, unprotected sex, and the overconsumption of alcohol - activities that have been shown to increase the likelihood of developing cancer.
Sadly, children of divorce also suffer from a decreased life expectancy due to both the health risks they incur from engaging in risky activities and from the toll that long-term mental conditions can have on a person's health. For instance, someone suffering from long-term depression and loneliness is more likely to contract - and less likely to recover as well from - diseases like cancer and heart disease.
A Lack Of Understanding
No matter how many times and ways in which parents explain their divorce to their children, the children may still not ever truly understand why their parents got divorced, even well into adulthood. This is often because their parents are so focused on finding happiness and normalcy again that they don't pay as much attention to what their children need. As a result, the children feel abandoned and confused. Why couldn't Mommy just be happy with Daddy? Why did she have to go out and find someone new?
Another thing that is often misunderstood is why children of divorce resort to rebellious behavior. Yes, they are finding ways of coping with their pain, and they may even be trying to punish their parents, but it is also an attempt to regain control of a life that they feel is spiraling out of control.
A Sense Of Order
If two parents must get divorced, then it is crucial that the parent who lives with the child tries to maintain some sense of order and routine to salvage the child's feelings of security. You also need to regularly reassure the child that he or she can depend on one or both of his or her parents to help him with whatever he needs, whenever he needs it.
This will build the child's trust in the reliability and routine of his home life. He is dealing with a tough situation that comes with pretty strong emotions, and he needs to know that he has a safe space in which he can feel free to experience and talk about these things.
For younger children, it may be difficult to accept the permanency of a divorce. The child may still believe, despite what his parents tell him, that his parents will get back together someday. For this reason, it can do more harm than good to participate in activities together after you have already split up. For instance, instead of splitting up time with the child on holiday, some parents will get together for the day so that they can both spend time with the child. However, seeing his parents together only fuels his fantasy that they will one day reunite, and his family will again be whole.
Remarriages can be another trying situation for a child. Not only does he or she have to get to know someone new, but that someone new is going to function as his or her parent. Not only that, but the new spouse may also be bringing along children of their own, and so the children have to get to know one another and learn to live together.
Further, there may be even more people competing for the parent's attention than before, like the new spouse's family and friends which, in turn, are all new characters in the child's life. This is a lot to ask a child to adjust to - especially when it was never the child's decision in the first place.
Remarriage can be especially painful if the parent who is getting remarried is not the parent the child lives with. This is because the remarried parent now needs to devote time to his or her new family, which may include more children which the child may feel are his or her "replacements." This is made especially worse when communication from the remarried parent drops off, or if he or she moves to a new city further away from the child. The child may feel like, "why bother? Mom has a new family now. She doesn't need me around anymore."
Couples who have children should not jump into a divorce because it's the easy way out. If you are unhappy, and you're not sure how to fix things, then you may want to consider couples counseling, or even individual counseling, as a way to salvage your marriage.
However, sometimes, you can try everything, and nothing works. Sometimes divorce is the only answer. Some couples who are in emotionally or physically abusive relationships may be doing more harm than good in staying together, especially if the abusive partner refuses to get help. And even if the child is not directly being abused, seeing his or her parents in a domestic violence situation is damaging enough to the child's overall well-being.
No matter what, when children are involved, divorce should not be taken lightly. A divorce is a violent upheaval of a child's life. Now they have to be shuffled between parents when before they lived with both. They may have to get to know and become part of a new family, maybe even two new families - something they never wanted and didn't choose for themselves.
And while parents may be invested in seeking their satisfaction and happiness - something they have every right to do - they should always ensure that their children's needs are being equally met. The last thing children who are going through their parents' divorce need is to feel abandoned by the parent they live with, on top of everything else.
Are you worried about the effects your divorce is having on your child? One of our Regain counselors can help. Send us a message anytime, from anywhere, and we can offer you advice and support.