What Are the Long-Term Effects of Divorce on a Child?
Splitting up is a stressful experience for every couple, but one thing that adds to the pain of divorcing parents all the more is thinking how their divorce will impact the present and future lives of their children.
Every parent wishes their children to have a fulfilling life. As a married couple, they make every effort to support their little souls and help them grow up to be happy, healthy adults – but when a divorce happens, the equation in the family goes topsy-turvy. Somehow, the divorcing parents muster up the courage to deal with the pain, distress, and troubles that come with the decision.
But what about the children? How exactly does a divorce affect children?
If you are contemplating a divorce or going through the procedure already, then it’s crucial to understand the psychological and emotional effects of your separation on children. Going into the depth of the situation and understanding the severity of the impact will help you act wisely and do what’s in the best interest of your children.
Key Questions About the Effects of Divorce on Children
At any given point of time, both parents keep wondering and worrying about the lives of their children after the breakup.
They look for answers to questions such as:
- Will the children be able to make sense of the situation?
- How will the parent-child relationship change for them?
- Will they be able to deal with the stress?
- How will they react to their friends?
- Will they be able to accept a step-parent?
- Will our breakup affect their grades in school?
- Will they suffer from a long-term psychological effect?
- Are the impacts same both for boys and girls?
- Does a child’s age matter?
There are myriads of questions like these. The divorcing parents spend days and nights thinking about the outcome for their children. They wish that their children remain completely unharmed from their decision.
But no matter how hard a couple may try, the truth is that their divorce has a huge, long-lasting impact on their children.
The First Year after the Divorce is the Most Difficult for Children
Just like marriage, divorce too is a common experience. As per a report published in the American Sociological Review, around 50% of American children see the divorce of their parents. Over the last two or three decades, the rate of divorce worldwide has gone up by a significant percentage.
While the negative impacts of a married couple’s separation have long-term implications for children, the first two years have been found to be the toughest. During the first year or two post-divorce, the memory of the divorce is fresh in a child’s mind. They deeply feel and miss the presence of the other parent in the family while living with one parent, who is mostly the mother. The children of divorced parents show changes in their psychological and emotional thinking pattern. Feelings of distress, anger and anxiety are quite strong in the beginning.
As time passes, many children tend to adapt to their single-parent life and start leading a comfortable life again. However, there are some who seem to suffer a long-lasting impact from their parents’ divorce.
Side-Effects of Divorce on Children
The psychological and emotional impact of a divorce varies in young children, grade school children and teenagers.
Young children can’t really seem to understand why they have to switch between two homes. They may worry about the loss of love between their parents and wonder whether someday their parents will stop loving them too.
Grade school children feel anxious thinking that the divorce happened because of them. They tend to believe that it is their fault that led to the divorce.
Teenagers hold either one parent or both the parents responsible for the breakup and display a resentful behavior towards their parents as well to others in their day-to-day lives.
However, not all cases are same. There are also few exceptions where a divorce could mean a better, happier life for children. This is in cases where the couples were abusive and violent to each other during the marriage.
Potential Short-Term Effects of Divorce on a Child
- Anxiety – It is common for the children of divorcing or divorced parents to suffer from a feeling of anxiety. When parents break up with each other, it makes children tense and nervous. They remain anxious worrying what their life after separation is going to be like. Even when the court proceedings are on and the divorce procedure hasn’t yet ended, the children remain anxious. The feeling of anxiety among children makes it difficult for them to focus on studies and other activities of daily life. Compared to older children, young children are more anxious.
- Sadness – There’s no reason for children to feel happy as they see their parents split up. The children are filled with intense sadness and they lose interest in most things of their life. If this feeling of sadness is not controlled in time, it can send children into a state of depression, which is a long-term impact.
- Stress – Older or grade school children think they are to blame for the divorce of their parents. Such thinking leads to a lot of stress in children. If there is a constant lack of communication from parents, the stress only escalates.
- Anger – Young children of a divorced couple develop a resentful attitude. They become easily angry even at people they know. The effect of a divorce on some children is so deep that they stop communicating with anyone. They like to remain in a state of seclusion, discarding social life.
- Distress – The conflicting situation of a divorce throws children into distress. Due to a loss of emotional support from their parents, children start to feel hopeless. This could aggravate further if care is not taken.
- Short-term effects of a divorce do plenty of harm to the psychology of children. Unless both the parents pay serious attention and take some preventive steps, this can lead to long-term implications.
Potential Long-Term Effects of Divorce on a Child
- Antisocial Behavior – Children of divorce become short-tempered over time. They develop a feeling of intense dislike towards the society, so much so that they don’t think twice before assaulting someone. They don’t care much about what is right and what is wrong and may start taking the law for granted. Sometimes, these children develop a criminal mindset and turn into a social misfit.
- Troubled Relationships – Failed marriage of parents leads to the growth of negative mindset in children. Since children themselves see the love and harmony of a marriage relationship vanish, they lose trust in relationships. In fact, when it comes to solving the issues in their own relationships, their confidence betrays them because they tend to focus on the negative side of it more.
- Substance Abuse – Adolescents resort to smoking, drugs and alcohol to somehow release their frustration. As per research, teens are more susceptible to falling into these bad habits after their parents split up. Boys and girls of divorce often start with smoking and then they give in to drugs and alcohol.
- Depression – Children with a feeling of intense sadness enter into a state of depression over time. Depression is not just common, but it is also a serious mental condition. Depressed children suffer from multiple types of emotional and psychological problems. Researches show that the after-effects of a divorce can be one of the key factors that cause bipolar disorder (a manic depression) in children.
- Poor Learning Ability – A couple’s divorce also affects the education of their children. Whether at home or at school, children can’t seem to concentrate on their studies and their learning ability reduces. This has an adverse impact on the children’s career prospects as they grow up, from school to college.
The Positive Aspects of a Divorce
Can a married couple’s breakup do good to their children? Yes, at times. In cases where the partners regularly abuse each other, going for a divorce can be a positive thing to do and it can benefit the children’s lives.
If there is constant substance abuse in a marriage relationship or the partners don’t respect each other anymore, getting a divorce is in the favor of parents as well as the children. This means that after divorce children can live in a tension-free, peaceful atmosphere. The children will no more have to see their parents quarrel with each other. Every day as children get back home from school, they will be sure that they won’t have to hear their parents shout or hurl abuses at each other. Because, now they’ll be living with only one of the parents, the saner one of course.
After the divorce is complete, both parents can separately fulfill their responsibilities towards their children. Even if the children have to switch between two homes, they will be relieved to think there are no more arguments. And each parent can still care for their children as they did before.
It’s also been noted that children do better in school after the divorce of their parents. But again this is where the parents’ marriage relationship involved a lot of violence and abuse on a daily basis. Also, there are some children who are wise enough to take lessons from the breakup of their parents. These children acquire the ability to manage conflicts in their own relationships later.
Tips for Parents: How to Protect Children in Divorce
Of course, the best way to reduce a child’s suffering is to reconsider the decision to break up. If getting back together doesn’t look like a possibility and all the efforts in this direction have failed, then you can go ahead with the divorce while taking some key steps to ensure your children don’t suffer much.
- Communicate: If you have initiated the divorce procedure, inform your children about it in a polite manner. Don’t keep it a secret because revealing it at the last minute could come as a shock to your children. Explain to your children that mom and dad have decided to separate and why it is a good decision. Young children may think that a divorce is their fault. Make sure your children don’t think in this way, as it could harm them emotionally and psychologically.
- Remain Involved as Parents: Even though you have decided to part ways with your spouse, you are still a parent. Both during and after the divorce, both of you should make sure that the upbringing of your children isn’t affected. Discuss it with the other partner that you’ll both work hard to stay as much involved as possible so that your children can lead a normal life. Whether it’s your child’s birthday or a family event, make sure both of you attend it together like you did before. Likewise, take part in all other activities of your children jointly for their well-being.
- Respect the Other Parent: No matter how much resentment you have toward the other parent, never show it in front of the children. In fact, whenever you meet the children together, treat the other parent with respect. Your friendly attitude towards each other will help the children express themselves openly and it will finally contribute to their healthy and happy life in a big way.
- Go for Intervention Programs: It’s a good idea to get your children get enrolled in a preventive intervention program for professional help. These programs help children find answers to their questions about parental separation and reduce the level of their stress and sadness. Moreover, preventive intervention also teaches children how to communicate with their parents. The purpose of these programs is to ultimately help children develop a positive mindset.
Divorce is a bitter pill to swallow – both for parents and children. However, if you have figured out that this is the only option you have, you should never forget to do what is in the best interest of your children. At any cost, both of you should make every effort to minimize the impact of your separation on your children. Your children have a long life ahead of them, and the aftermath of your divorce can never hinder their personal and career growth. Do the best you can.