The decision of whether or not to get a divorce is a tough one, to say the least. That decision becomes even tougher when there are children involved. Kids don’t cope very well with divorce, we all know that, but that doesn’t mean it should be ruled out.
For kids, as well as adults, divorce means change, and instability. It often leads to feelings of abandonment, which in turn can lead to anxiety and depression. It’s not a situation that anyone wishes to be in. However, with divorce rates at an all-time high, there is a fair chance that you’ll find yourself faced with this decision at some point. And like most things in life, there is no right answer.
The truth is, divorce does have a negative impact on children. It can cause younger kids to regress and become over-dependent on their caregivers, and it can cause adolescents to rebel and become more independent. Children under the age of 10 tend to fantasize about their parents getting back together, longing for the family to reconnect so they can regain stability and security. Behaviors like bed wetting, crying at bed time and tantrums are common and serve to bring family members closer. Older kids, or teenagers, tend to view the divorce as a selfish or irresponsible act. They feel betrayed by their parents’ decision to split and will often behave defiantly, sometimes leading to risky behaviors like drinking or drug use.
There is good news though. While divorce can have a lot of negative effects on kids, research shows that the majority of children from divorced households grow up to be perfectly healthy, functional adults. Even better, is the fact that there are things you can do to help your kids cope with the transition.
Children can feel very insecure during a divorce, which is a major source of anxiety for them. They suddenly realize that one of their parents will no longer be in their life quite as much as before, so something like consistent and regular visits and outings is extremely important. Maintaining normal daily routines also helps make children more secure and gives the sense of stability.
It is also important to make sure that time spent together is positive. Children with divorced or divorcing parents very often crave attention, so you should both be willing to offer it. Provide them with plenty of reassurance; that it’s not their fault, that they are still loved, and that there are still other constants in their life.
Children like to ask questions, and those going through change tend to ask many. Try as much as you can to answer them honestly. Encourage them to ask questions, and to talk to both parents whenever they want or need to. Open communication is key. When things are happening around them and their questions aren’t being answered, they are much more likely to feel abandoned or betrayed. Talk to your kids. The importance of this can’t be stressed enough.
Finally, you need to take care of yourself. This is something that parents, especially mothers, forget all too easily. Your mood and behavior becomes your kids’ mood and behavior. Your anxiety becomes your kids’ anxiety. If you are not in a healthy state of mind, it becomes virtually impossible to provide the support and attention children need so much, and with the added stress of separation tension and aggression start to become a problem. No matter how crazy your schedule is, find a few 5 or 10 minute slots in your day to just breathe and regroup. Your health is just as important as that of your kids.
Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for. As adults and as parents, we try so hard to protect them from the pain of life, but that pain is inevitable, and also valuable. With the right approach, most children are able to bounce back from the shock of divorce without any significant issues. So instead of hinging your decision on the effect a divorce might have on them, focus more on providing your children with what they really need; love, stability and security.