Divorce will always, regardless of the situation surrounding it, be stressful for children. Because of this, they should be your top priority throughout the divorce process. Children can feel a whirlwind of emotions while their parents’ divorce and these feelings are mostly negative. From stress and anxiety to anger and depression, divorce can affect children in profound ways.
The way in which children process the news of divorce will vary on a few key factors:
- Their age;
- The quality or type of relationship they have with both parents;
- The quality or type of marriage their parents have.
Younger children are not mentally developed enough to fully process the fact that their parents are going to get a divorce. To them, their parents are one entity, and not two separate people. Suddenly, the child will be splitting their time between two people and two different households. Because this can be confusing to young children, parents must be prepared to address any questions or concerns their children may have. However, children are quite resilient and are able to cope with change well. Pre-teens, teenagers (and possibly even adult children) may have a harder time coping with the notion of divorce, and might even blame themselves for their parents splitting up. This self-inflected blame can lead to a slew of negative emotions ranging from depression and anxiety, to slip-ups in school and a complete change in their usual behavior.
Children, regardless of age, may not be affected by the news of their parent’s divorce if they have a negative relationship, or no relationship at all, with one of their parents. For instance, if a child’s father travels frequently for work, or lives in another city, and they don’t speak or see each other often, then the child may already be accustomed to a quasi-single parent household. In this case, their parents separating probably won’t have much of a negative effect on them.
Finally, children who are growing up in an abusive household may feel a combination of a sense of relief and anxiety wash over them when they find out their parents are divorcing. Being freed from the confines of an emotionally, psychologically or physically abusive environment will be incredibly beneficial for children in the long run, even if they do have feelings of anxiety or nervousness during the beginning stages of the divorce process. These feeling of anxiety can be due, in part, to moving households, a change in their daily routine, or the fear that the abusive parent will come back into their life. In situations such as these, it may be in the child’s best interest to see a licensed therapist to help them transition and cope with their previous abuse.
If the situation permits, couples need to make a conscious effort to co-parent their children, as this technique has been proven to help children successfully process and cope with divorce. A fantastic example of co-parenting in recent news can be seen in the Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr divorce. The couple announced their divorce in November 2013, but claimed they were going to remain committed to their young son. In an interview given to Katie Couric, Bloom said, “We love each other. We're a family. We're going to be in each other's lives for the rest of our lives. There's no question, for the sake of our son and everything else, we're going to support one another and love each other as parents to Flynn." Since their announcement, the former spouses have been spotted together in public, as well as exchanging friendly greetings at Hollywood events. Their continued amicable actions demonstrate that their son’s well-being remains their top priority. Given his parent’s friendship and desire to co-parent, Flynn has a much better chance of coping successfully with his parent’s divorce.
Divorce is a major life change for spouses, children and other family members. Children’s reactions to divorce will differ, as will the immediate and lasting affects it has on them. But there are ways to help your children process the divorce announcement. Simply by answering their questions, addressing their concerns, encouraging them to express how they feel, as well as paying extra attention to any behavioral changes, parents can help change the way divorce or separation effects their children.