The Impact of Divorce on Children
When I was contemplating divorce, the single hardest question I had to ask myself was, how will it impact my children? I wondered, will it damage them for life?
I’m on the other side of divorce. My family is two years out from the initiation of two parental households, and I can say with confidence that my children are thriving. I’m not advocating for or against divorce (we’re big fans of healthy, thriving partnerships here at Conscious Family), but I am saying that if it is possible for adults to transform, learn, and grow from the divorce process, the same is true for children.
The truth is, divorce impacts children. Deep acceptance of the fact that there was no way to shelter my children from the impact of this transition was the first step for me in addressing divorce, parenting, and our beautiful kiddos.
There are certain schools of thought (most often found in desperate midnight Google searches) that would have you believe that divorce is one of the most egregious crimes parents can commit against their children. This is just one way of thinking and frankly, the negativity of this way of thinking alone is bound to be detrimental to the children involved.
Research shows that it’s not divorce itself that impacts children negatively, but rather, it’s the conflict before, after, and during divorce that has the most profound negative impact on children. In their book chapter The Conscious Divorce: Save Money, Protect Your Kids, and Create a Better Future, our partners cite that the
“effects [of ongoing parental conflict] on children can include depression and anxiety, low academic performance, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse, poor child-parent relationships, and later, poor adult relationships, among other things.”
Of course, we cannot control our co-parent and their behaviors and attitudes. If we could make our current or former spouses behave as we wanted, perhaps we wouldn’t be talking about this major life transition. At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, studies support that parental positivity surrounding the divorce and one’s attitude toward the other parent act as protective factors for children. So, though we can’t fully orchestrate the outcome of the impact on our children, we can manage our own behaviors and attitudes when it comes to parenting through major transitions.
Another thing: there’s a link between the support system surrounding parents and the positive outcome of their children. I can think of many dear friends and family on whom I leaned heavily before, during, and after my divorce both for practical, logistical support like child care and financial advice, and of course, for emotional support and friendship. If you find yourself reading this and are feeling a little (or a lot) untethered and without support, please reach out to us--we can refer you to any number of resources, including safe spaces like support groups where you might find yourself developing friendships.
What is it really like after divorce for you and your children? I think the above information answers that question—it depends on your attitude and approach to the process. I’ll ask a few hard questions here: are you willing to let the natural anger, resentment, and sadness move through and out of you so that you can show up for your children in the best way possible? Do you accept that though your marriage might be ending, your relationship with your co-parent is potentially life-long (think graduations, weddings, grandkids, etc.)? Do you accept that re-forming a relationship with your former spouse takes ongoing self-reflection and deliberate, authentic communication skills? If so, then you are positioned well to help your children move through the divorce and thrive afterward.
I’m not saying my life or children are perfect post-divorce. In fact, I often feel the weight of the transitions my kiddos have to make from house-to-house on a weekly basis, and my heart aches for that. My son will sometimes express that he wishes we all lived together. For the first year after divorce my daughter had a difficult time regulating emotions. However, when I sit across from my co-parent at “Family Dinner” which we try to do several times a month, and when I see my beautiful, kind, spirited children thriving at school and with friends, I know that they’ll be okay maybe not even in spite of this transition, but in part because of it.