To many parents seeking divorce, the final divorce decree can be a very welcome relief from stress and anxiety. The divorce process often emphasizes tension between spouses, and the hassle of attending court hearings or lawyer meetings can cause significant fissures to parents’ every-day schedules and routines. For these reasons, finalizing a divorce can feel as though a significant weight has been removed. To children, however, the finality of divorce can feel like the exact opposite.
Regardless of age, divorce causes significant stress on children. Even infants can feel the tension of divorcing parents, which can lead to irritability and clinginess starting at a very early age. To children, the divorce process can start well before their parents actually file for the divorce itself. For many, especially younger children, the parent’s decision to seek divorce may feel like a result of the child’s own actions. These unfound feelings of blame a child may experience can manifest themselves in negative responses such as regression, fear of abandonment, and trouble sleeping.
For children, divorce is a complete upheaval of their daily lives. Children who have spent their entire lives in a two-parent household are now being forced to split their time with each parent. It is common for children to worry that the non-custodial parent may stop loving them or disappear entirely, because it is hard for children to comprehend the reasoning behind it all. This is especially difficult considering that Courts inherently (and for good reason) avoid including children in divorce proceedings. Although Courts rarely heed the requests of children, it is not unheard of for the child’s wishes to be heard. In many amicable divorces, parents participate in mediation and arbitration to discuss whether the child’s wishes should be involved in the proceedings, often to everyone’s mutual benefit.
Along the same vein, children generally do not experience the same relief a parent may feel after a long and difficult custody battle finally comes to a conclusion. To parents, final divorce papers may be a welcome end to an arduous process. But children have to live with the result of the divorce for the rest of their lives. For younger children that feel that the divorce is a result of something they did personally, the finality of the divorce may create even more stress. This stress can ultimately lead to intense feelings of guilt, depression, and may cause the child to experience continuing problems with trusting others.
On the other hand, older children, who have a better understanding of what a divorce realistically means for their family and their daily lives, may feel as though it is their duty to salvage the marriage themselves. This can create significant problems down the road, when the child realizes that they cannot bring their parents back together. The final divorce decree can create a feeling of helplessness within children who believe they, alone, can solve their parents’ marriage problems. Unfortunately this means that the conclusion of the divorce may actually be the most difficult part of the process.
Children react differently to divorces based on a number of factors such as age, gender, and disposition. It is not uncommon for boys to become more aggressive and start fighting with other children at school. However for girls, aggression is often exchanged for depression and anxiety. Younger children often need more coddling and attention. Older children may reject affection altogether, as it may be hard for an older child to reconcile seeing the love of between their parents fade.
Understanding the reasons why a child is having a hard time coping with divorce is the first step to understanding how to properly react to the stress. One of the easiest things a parent can do is to talk with their child about the things that are bothering them. Establishing with a child early-on that the divorce is not their fault is vital. For parents of children who feel it is their job to fix the marriage, having an open and honest discussion about the aspects of the divorce that a child can and cannot control can be very helpful. Another helpful option is counseling, which can help a child throughout the divorce by providing a means for the child to communicate without favoring one parent.
Parents can easily get caught up in their own stress during a divorce, but it is important to be aware of the potential problems children may face as a result of the divorce as well. Being aware of why a child is reacting one way or another is extremely helpful towards working through the overall problem. For this reason, understanding why divorce is particularly hard for children is one of the keys to helping said children cope with the stress they are experiencing themselves.
Bio: Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer, currently writing for Crouse Law Group. He’s written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies. In his free time, you can find him playing his guitar or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.