Children of Divorce
Divorce propels adults and children into numerous adjustments and challenges. While great diversity exists in children’s adjustment to divorce, and a majority of children weather the transition and become competent adults, up to a quarter of children whose parents divorce experience ongoing emotional and behavior difficulties (as compared to 10% of children whose parents do not divorce).
Spouses divorce each other, but they do not divorce their children. A majority of former spouses are able to establish a relatively conflict-free parenting relationship for the benefit of their children. However about a third have difficulty in establishing a workable parenting relationship, even years after the divorce.
Parental conflict can hinder children’s adjustment and good co-parenting skills are very important to a child’s adjustment. Most parents who have a difficult relationship with their ex-spouse but who want to co-parent start out with “parallel parenting.” In this arrangement, each parent assumes total responsibility for the children during the time they are together; there is no expectation of flexibility and little contact with the other parent. As time goes on and anger dissipates, parents may develop some version of “cooperative parenting.” In this arrangement, parents communicate directly and in a business-like manner regarding the children and co-parenting schedules. Marriage and family therapists can be helpful to families as they formulate or define their post-divorce parenting relationships.
How can you help your children?
- Tell your children about the divorce together, if possible.
- Answer your children’s questions honestly, avoiding unnecessary details.
- Reassure your children they are not to blame for the divorce.
- Tell your children they are loved and will be taken care of.
- Include the other parent in school and other activities.
- Be consistent and on time to pick up and return your children.
- Develop a workable parenting plan that gives your children access to both parents.
- Guard against canceling plans with your children.
- Give your children permission to have a loving, satisfying relationship with the other parent.
- Avoid putting your children in the middle and in the position of having to take sides.
- Avoid pumping your children for information about the other parent.
- Avoid arguing and discussing child support issues in front of your children.
- Avoid speaking negatively about the other parent or using your children as pawns to hurt the other parent.
How do you know when to seek help?
When your children show signs of stress
- Acts younger than their chronological age
- Fear of being apart from parent(s)
- Acting out
- Sadness and depression
- Sleep or eating problems
- Change in personality
- Academic and peer problems
- Irrational fears and compulsive behavior
When you or your co-parent begins to
- Use the legal system to fight with each other
- Put down or badmouth the other parent
- Use the children as message carriers or to spy on the other parent (children feel caught in the middle)
- Experience high levels of conflict and children repeatedly try to stop the fighting
- Rely on the children for high level of emotional support and major responsibilities in the home
- Experience depression or anxiety