Children and Divorce
There is hope when it comes to children and divorce
Divorce is one of the most challenging changes any family can face. Divorcing parents, especially, worry about how that change will affect their children. While divorce is painful for kids, evidence shows that there is also a lot of hope when it comes to children and divorce.
Good news, 20 years later
We often hear how children of divorce struggle as adults, but at least one expert has set out to challenge that myth. Dr. Constance Ahrons, a leading expert on divorce and relationships, surveyed a group of adults she had worked with 20 years’ earlier as children. Her findings might surprise some who assume that divorce is always bad for children, and even she admits that “good news is very hard to hear about divorce.”
Two decades ago, these individuals were children coping with their parents’ divorces. Today, they paint a hopeful and positive picture. Below are just a few of their responses to Ahrons’ survey:
- 76 percent do not wish their parents were still together
- 79 percent feel their parents’ decision to divorce was a good one
- 78 percent feel they are better off or not affected
- 50 percent report a closer relationship with their father post-divorce
In addition, Ahrons told the CBS Early Morning Show, these adult children of divorce are marrying and staying married at the same rate as their peers, calling into question the myth that children of divorce have difficulty forming and maintaining intimate relationships.
“Divorce is never easy for any family,” said Ahrons, “but it does not need to destroy children’s lives, nor does it lead to family breakdown.”
How young children react to divorce
A short documentary, Split, by Ellen Bruno shines a light on the child’s perspective in divorce. The 30-minute film features interviews with a handful of boys and girls ranging in age from about six to 12. Most importantly, we hear from the children – in their own words – as they recount their personal stories.
The film illustrates beautifully the range of emotions and reactions children experience during and after their parents’ divorce. From first learning about their parents’ decision to meeting a parent’s new boyfriend or girlfriend, these children share what one girl describes as a “roller coaster” of ups and downs.
One preteen boy went from “I hated everything” to “It’s just not [my] ball of wax – it’s theirs.” His interview shows how resilient children can be and how even young children can reach acceptance through their grieving process. He closed by saying, “I think my mom and dad are happier now.”
Another preteen girl describes her two-household family, saying with a smile, “My family is kind of different…we’re kind of weird in a way, and I think that’s what makes us special.”
Bottom line, remember that children are human. They grieve. They feel complex emotions. While they might not understand everything happening around them, honor and respect their emotions – good and bad.
What you can do
“Your only job is to be a kid. There’s no right or wrong things to do.” —Young girl in the film Split, recalling her counselor’s words
Those words should ring in the ears of every divorcing or divorced parent, and that advice tops the list of what you can do to help your children through divorce:
- Let your kids be kids. Keep them out of your adult battles.
- Listen. Let your kids talk about their feelings without judgment.
- Love. Most of all, children need to feel safe and loved. Throughout the process of divorce, remind them of your love.
- Respect the other parent. Remember that your child loves the other parent; give him the freedom to do so and never badmouth the other household.
In one heart-wrenching scene in Split, a young boy of about six sums up what every child needs to feel and hear after their parents’ divorce: “If you think they don’t love you, they actually do. If you think they’re not happy you were born, they actually are. They just love you in every single way.”
While your marriage might have ended, your relationship with your children remains incredibly important. You can keep the lines of communication open with your children and help them remember how much you love them regardless of the changes divorce brings.
Divorce is a complex topic, and there are no one-size-fits-all answers. We will cover additional aspects of divorce in future articles.
Therapy can be a helpful way for individuals and families to navigate the effects of divorce. To learn more about my approach to family therapy, contact me today. My practice serves individuals, couples, and families in the central Denver area. The first 50-minute consultation is free.