Parenting children can be hard at the best of times, but during a divorce there are some particular points to think about. A high conflict divorce has been shown to be particularly damaging for children, while those who are shielded from conflict during a divorce often do very well.
What divorce advice would children give their parents if they could? While we can’t presume to know every situation and every child, here are some suggestions from Sandra Russell, a Resolution (UK) accredited specialist and collaborative lawyer:
- Communicate more effectively with your ex
- Learn ways to help children through divorce.
- Unburden your children from the stresses of divorce.
Many of our children are raised in a safe environment. They feel protected and secure. We all love to feel secure (children especially) because it makes us feel happy. Divorce shakes up that feeling of security. Change is hard enough for adults and more often a changing, unsure situation is felt much more keenly by children. By the time we’re adults, we’ve often become better at adjusting to change. It’s not the same for our kids.
How To Ensure Your Children Don’t Suffer From Conflict
Emotional turbulence is usually at the heart of a divorce. The security and confidence our children felt can disappear fairly quickly in the midst of this, but by staying in control you can still help to shape how this divorce will have an effect on your children.
Some of the ways in which we can help our children are for all parents, not just those separating and divorcing. But according to a recent thread on Reddit, some of the ways in which children of divorce wished their parents had behaved included:
- Don’t bad-mouth each other to your kids.
- Don’t stop the other parent from seeing their child.
- Don’t treat your kids like your therapist.
The emotional trauma that we as adults suffer from with broken relationships can become all-consuming if we let it. But it doesn’t need to be this way. It’s good when we can focus less on ourselves and remember those around us – children particularly. How you communicate with your former spouse is something that you can bring under control. Although the physical separation may be hard for your kids, it is how you handle the situation and communicate with your ex that can be harmful.
The less conflict surrounding your divorce (or the less conflict your children are exposed to) the better they are likely to cope and adapt healthily. Here are Sandra Russell’s top tips for keeping the turmoil to a minimum for children of divorce:
- Genuinely listen to your children. Acknowledge that they have feelings of anger and sadness, and that these feelings are totally normal.
- Try to maintain their existing routines and discipline, even though these may now be split across two households. Anxiety about life changes is natural for children, so keeping as many things the same as possible can help to instill a feeling of stability.
- Children need to be given permission to love both parents even when those parents no longer love each other.
- Answer their questions in a comforting, truthful and age-appropriate way, and make clear that you both love them and will always be their parents.
- Children need reassurance that the divorce or separation is not their fault and, also, that it is a grownup problem they can’t fix. You’ll need to repeat this over and over, so get used to making them believe it.
- Consult older children about decisions that will affect them, especially in how they want to split their time between your two households.
- Try not to involve children of any age in adult battles, don’t invite them to take sides or criticise the other parent, nor saddle them with adult responsibilities.
Children From Low-Conflict Divorced Families Do Well
Jennifer O’Loughlin, the principal researcher for a study into family breakdown and the impact of dads leaving home after parents part ways, says that it is adolescent children that are the most likely to develop stress, anxiety and/or symptoms of depression. These mental health issues are usually short term following the split, but it does mean that parents need to be vigilant in ensuring that it doesn’t remain unnoticed and untreated as it can lead to longer term psychological issues. There is complexity in divorce, but providing as much stability in the flux as you can will help children cope. Steven Harris, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota says, “One of the things that we know about divorce is that it interrupts the normal developmental sequence of a kid’s life. Most kids that aren’t exposed to high conflict marriages are not worried about their parents’ marriage at all. There’s food on the table, there’s the natural stressors of the day, there’s my homework,” Harris says. “But then you add in your parents’ possible divorce transition, and now you’re wondering about a host of different things you’ve never had to think about before.” That upheaval can lead to depression and anxiety in some, he says.
In the longer term, most children of divorce do well. In fact, a long-term study by a sociologist named Paul Amato, compared both children of married and divorced parents and showed that on average there were very small differences in achievements and behaviours. Researchers, however, have also found that where there are high levels of parental conflict during a divorce then there is often a poorer adjustment in children.
Children will fare much better if parents can curb conflict associated with the divorce process or at least limit their exposure to it. Even though it may still be very painful and hard (even without much conflict) the good news is that long-term harm isn’t a given. Children can be amazingly resilient and bounce back.
We always encourage and assist our clients to mediate – with a view to hopefully avoiding the emotional and financial costs of a court battle. Please contact us today for a free, 10-minute phone consultation.