divorce and children

This is the question some parents find crosses their mind as their marriage comes to an end. Others realise that divorce or permanent separation is the only solution. 

As proceedings kick-in, whether you are dealing with a vexatious litigant or are able to calmly hit the mediators’ office, all parents have worries ranging from living arrangements to child custody plans. “How will the children deal with the divorce?” and “How will I deal with the children and the divorce?”

Mums and Dads who experienced a childhood where their own parents were together can feel that they are letting their own offspring down. They can feel that they have failed as parents. Research says that all children deal with divorce in different ways, but for sure, as it is for adults, the first year is extremely difficult as everyone is forced to adjust to a new way of living. Some children bounce back quicker than others.

There are steps which parents can take to reduce the psychological effects on their children. It is very difficult to juggle the needs of the children as well as other issues especially if the other parent is being difficult. It is not all plain sailing. Many stay-at-home parents who didn’t have their own income, suffer post-separation abuse as their spouse uses finances to launch a revenge attack. There are of course cases where one parent finds themselves in a refuge or shelter with the children due to divorce and the actions of a particularly troubled ex. It could be that a parent is escaping domestic abuse or violence.

Implementing just a few supportive strategies can make a huge difference to how the kids adjust to the changes in their life. Children suffer the same issues as the adults going through the process; distress, disbelief and anger. It takes time to get used to a new daily routine and maybe living arrangements become unsettled and transient. Small routines like watching TV or reading together can offer children the time to cosy up and feel safe. Ensure that other things are stable too such as showing that Grand Parents and other family members are still very much on the scene (if they were before the break-up). Imagine these points as the guy ropes keeping the flapping tent tethered to the ground. Continue with a routine around meals and bedtime. Things have changed, but not every part of life.   

It is essential that you inform the school of the changes as there will be support available in the form of counselling if required. Children often feel better talking to a stranger about their feelings, and this time, set aside from the normal school day will allow the child to process what is happening away from their home environment. 

Children of Divorce

Younger children can become very confused and frustrated as they battle to understand why a parent no longer lives with them. They may worry that they caused the separation and believe that they must have done something naughty or wrong. They can’t understand why they have to now live between two homes. Add to this the concerns they have that their parents may also stop loving them and you have a child in turmoil. Older kids often get angry at the changes. They may not want to live in a smaller house or blame one parent in particular, they don’t like the changes which they feel make them stand out from the crowd and different to their friends. 

As time goes on, some children feel a relief that their parents broke up as they remember the arguments and discontent. They are happy when their lives are calmer and even warm to a new step-parent when they see that their Mum or Dad is happy with that person. Every situation is unique and there is no generic plan of action.

The introduction of a new partner into the mix can also worry children as they can become concerned about how this will affect them. If there are also other children in this scenario this can lead to issues. There are many specialists who can guide and coach you and if you notice changes in your child’s attitude or behaviour, don’t just ignore the signs being presented to you.

There are studies which say that children don’t perform as well academically, have higher truancy rates, are more likely to engage in risky behaviour such as substance abuse and early sexual activity, but maybe this happens when parents become unavailable because they are so overwhelmed and caught up in their own issues surrounding the divorce. As well as children having expert help, it is important to make sure the root of the problem, the parents, are getting the support they need. Frazzled and stressed parents definitely play a part in their children’s outlook on life.

Parents have many questions:

  • When and how do we tell the children we are separating?
  • When is the right time to introduce a new partner to my children?
  • Is it ok to move us in with my Partner?
  • How do I deal with my teenager who blames me for the divorce?
  • My child wants to live with my ex.
  • My ex is alienating my child from me.

Don’t forget your teenagers. It’s irrelevant whether you are getting divorced when the children are older, or a number of years have passed. Like adults, children need to talk about the stuff going on in their heads; any changes in attitude should be swiftly dealt with. In years to come, you may see you 20-year-old struggling. Talk.