By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Divorce is rarely an outcome married couples expect or anticipate. But marital strife can take its toll and for many, divorce is the chosen path for coping with relationship challenges. This makes divorce a rather controversial topic.
Google the subject and you’ll find conflicting perspectives on every facet of divorce, especially when it comes to parenting issues. Of course that comes as no surprise to every mother and father who battled with the guilt, anxiety, fears and insecurities that rear up when contemplating divorce and its aftermath.
As you know, the Child-Centered Divorce Network welcomes this kind of dialogue. I participate in many forums and discussion groups, comment on many blogs and write columns for several divorce and relationship websites offering my own advice and opinions on topics related to divorce and its effect on children.
Below is a comment from a reader in one of these discussions. Following that is my own response. This is a good jumping off place for your own commentary. You can add your viewpoint to my blog at www.childcentereddivorce.com – or send me an email at Rosalind@childcentereddivorce.com.
It’s always helpful to vent your feelings and frustrations in a community that understands what you’re going through – and may have some sound advice for you, as well. I welcome your feedback!
I agree that children should not be made to feel that they can save their parent’s marriage or that there’s a possibility their parents will get back together. But to say that divorce is not bad for children is reading too much into the existing evidence. The most recent research indicates that even children who did not exhibit obvious adjustment problems as youngsters suffer from feelings of loss and helplessness as adults. Rates of depression, anxiety and self-esteem disorders among the adult children of divorced parents are markedly higher than their intact family counterparts. Even the study you cite says that 25% of children suffer long term damage from a parent’s divorce. That’s high enough to give any person considering divorce pause.
And while there’s no doubt that parents behaving badly only makes things worse, to say that an amicable divorce makes everything okay is also going a step too far. No matter how friendly the parents are, children of divorce have to ping pong between two houses and two families, are torn during the holidays, and lack the most basic model for a loving, constructive, sustainable adult relationship. They (actually “we”, since I am the child of divorce and an extremely amicable one I might add) learn that commitment means nothing and that problems should be solved by walking away.
Regardless of the circumstances, divorce sucks for everyone involved.
Is this worse than staying in a marriage that makes the parents miserable? Honestly I don’t know but to say that you can divorce without it having an impact on children smacks of rationalization.
Your points are well-taken and should be very seriously considered before parents move ahead into divorce. No one advocates divorce as good for any family. However, when the home-life is toxic for the children, staying together can be just as harmful, maybe even more, than divorcing and creating a more peaceful outcome.
I am a product of parents who stayed together for the sake of the kids. I suffered all the negative psychological outcomes that children of divorce experience because my parents made every mistake we now warn against.
The reality is that parents need to be extremely diligent about the emotional environment they raise their kids in. If there’s strong parental discord, and divorce becomes a reality, protect your children in every possible way from feeling the impact, blaming themselves and trying to put your marriage back together. (They can’t do it, despite what movies often portray!)
There is no “best” answer to a toxic marriage unless the parents take responsibility for healing the pain and resolving the issues. Seek professional help — and keep your kids out of the middle! If you do end up divorced, make it “child-centered” so that neither parent overlooks their responsibility to safeguard their children’s emotional and psychological needs. This is especially important for parents to remember when they’re getting lost in their personal drama and preoccupied with their own rage, despair and resentments.
What do you think?
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the author of the internationally acclaimed ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A fill-in-the-blanks storybook that prepares your children — with love. For a free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, articles on Child-Centered Divorce, her ezine and many other valuable resources for parents go to: www.childcentereddivorce.com.