Men and women contemplating divorce worry about the effect on their children. All caring parents should. Answering how divorce affects kids is as complicated as answering how marriage affects children. Good marriages are great for kids! Bad marriages can be incredibly destructive. Bad divorces as well can cause significant harm but a good divorce can go a long ways toward lessening the negative impacts of divorce.
A GOOD DIVORCE
Is there really any such thing a s a good divorce? Well, not in the beginning for sure! For almost everyone, divorce is a difficult and painful decision. A couple gets married with the hope that the marriage will enhance their life and bring them happiness. As we know all too well, that is not always the case. Most divorces are not amicable, mutual decisions although a few are. Despite this, if the person making the decision to leave is able to keep the needs of their children in mind there are many steps adults can take to minimize the negative impact on those children. The more difficult task is for the one who has been left. The abandoned partner may not have wanted a divorce, may not have been thinking about a divorce and may not be prepared. Managing what can be overwhelming emotions while keeping in minds the needs of children in divorce can be an extremely difficult task.
The challenge of protecting children in divorce is the same as the choices adults have to make whenever they face other difficult circumstances. If you lose a job, develop a serious illness, or experience a major loss of another beloved person you will try to protect your child from the intensity of your own fears and distress. A caring parent understands that their children are helpless to change or improve the situation and that it is unfair to burden them. In a good divorce, parents work hard to protect their children from their own frightening emotions. A parent’s grief, anxiety, anger and need for retribution are all reactions that need to be minimized to the child. No, this doesn’t mean you go and say, “Mom and I are getting divorced, isn’t that great!” The situation should be portrayed in a manner appropriate to the age and emotional development of the child but the adults should work as hard as they can to save their worst moments for when the children of the divorce can be exposed. Even when a parent is not feeling strong, it helps to reassure the child that everything will be okay and that they will be loved and protected. Reassuring them can help you to convince yourself that you will be okay.
It can be hard for the most caring of parents to keep their children’s needs in mind while going through the turmoil of a divorce but that is one of the burdens we accept when we make the decision to have children. We often have to put their needs first.
SHIELDING CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
Getting support from family and friends is very important for divorcing parents. We need to express our anger, frustration and anxiety or, alternatively, justify why we felt compelled to take the actions we did. Have those conversations in private! Your children are listening. Don’t talk to your mother, your brother or your best friend when the children can hear. Conflict with separating partners invariably becomes tense and argumentative but efforts to prevent children from being exposed to the conflict and antagonism of divorce is one of the most important things you can do for children. No matter how terrible the behavior of the partner was, don’t put your own anger and resentment in the lap of your child. Children often have their own anger and addressing that can be very tricky. They have a right to be angry if Mom doesn’t come for visitation or Dad yelled at them because he is upset and not in good control of his feelings. It can be tempting to say, “yes, Mom is really terrible” but how does that help your child! Help children of divorce to talk about their feelings and what they can do to cope with things about the divorce that distress them. Agreeing to their fear or anger only adds to their misery because they are even more powerless than the adults to improve the situation.
Involving other family and caring adults can be particularly helpful to children experiencing divorce. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, old family friends can add to the sense of safety and stability children feel as many of these relationships will not change. If your emotions are out of control-anger explosions, crying too much, not eating or sleeping get professional help and support. Sometimes people want to suffer to show the other partner how much they are hurt but extending your misery adds to the burden of the divorce on your children who need you to be as strong as possible.
The self control and maturity that our children need from us during a divorce can only help us to cope better. Families who divorce as well as possible minimize the negative impact on their children. Research shows most adults emerge from divorce feeling better about their lives. Children can as well if parents remain focused on the needs of their children, even while going through divorce.