My friend Rachel is smart, successful, and kind. She is a self-made woman and one of the nicest people I know. When you look at her, you would think that she came from a great family and had a good childhood. That is not the case. When Rachel was eight years old, her parents divorced. She ended up living with her mother, and she only saw her father twice in seven years. After going through a rough childhood, how did Rachel end up successful and happy, while others in her situation didn't?
For the past several years in the United States alone, there have been 800,000 divorces and separations, with over one million children affected. How divorce affects children depends on many different variables. Everyone has different backgrounds, unique needs, and wants. The interventions that take place after a divorce have a direct impact on how the divorce affects children.
How Divorce Affects Children
Scientists have widely studied how divorce affects children. Studies of divorced children across five countries show that children with divorced parents, compared with children living with both parents, have more conduct and emotional problems, and more problems with social relationships. Furthermore, they have lower test scores and overall grades in school. Young Children and Adolescents react differently to divorce, showing different behaviors.
Children may regress to their former behavior at a younger age. They don't feel secure at home, so they revert to a previous way of functioning, hoping to receive the attention of their parent and feel more secure. Some of the regressive behaviors include bed-wetting, crying at bedtime, clinging, whining, tantrums, and breaking toilet training.
This is the age where children become more independent. They deal more aggressively to divorce, reacting in a rebellious way. They feel distant from their family because they think that they can't trust their family to keep their promises. Therefore, they focus on relying on themselves, putting themselves first, and getting back at their parents for hurting them.
Some behaviors they may exhibit are delinquent attitudes, poor academic performance, withdrawal, substance abuse, and inappropriate sexual behavior.
Why is it Important to Consider How Divorce Affects Children?
Divorce is very traumatic for young children and adolescents. This trauma has the potential to affect the children well into adulthood. If parents know the steps to take that will minimize the effects of divorce on their children, then they will be more likely to grow up into well-adjusted adults.
How Divorce Affects Children Into Adulthood
Studies on how divorce affects children long-term show that when children of divorce reach adulthood, they make less income, have less education, are more likely to have non-marital births, are at a higher risk for depression, and have poorer physical health. Furthermore, these adults also see more problems in their own marriages.
The Most Important Effects Of Divorce On Children
Divorce affects children in many ways, but the following are the most important effects of divorce on children.
The child may lose time with each parent
When a divorce occurs, parents will be preoccupied with adjusting to their new role as a divorced parent and the loss of their spouse. One or both parents may also work longer hours after the divorce. Therefore, they have less energy to be a parent and as a result, spend less time with their child.
Also, one parent may have custody of the child, which means the child will see one parent less often. Many times, the child lives with their mother, which means they don't get to see their father as much.
The child may lose economic security
/divorce/Households with single mothers are more likely to be impoverished than children living with both parents. I Lastly, children living with a divorced parent are less likely to experience movement from one financial level to a higher one. Once they are in poverty, they usually stay there throughout their childhood.
The child may lose emotional security
The child may have a weakened relationship with their mother because many times divorced mothers are less able to give emotional support. Furthermore, they may also have a weakened relationship with their father because divorced fathers spend less time with their children. The child may find it harder to trust their father due to the father's absence. In addition to the weakened relationship with parents, if the parent moves due to the divorce, the child will lose their school, friends, and other support systems.
Decreased social and psychological maturity
Children of divorced parents may have lower scores on self-concept and social relations, and anxiety and depression seem to increase after the divorce. In a study done on college students, the students whose parents were divorced were more likely to experience verbal and physical abuse from their partner during a conflict.
Cognitive and academic stimulation loss
Children of divorced parents are more likely to have lower Grade Point Averages (GPAs) and be asked to repeat a year of school. Also, they have less language stimulation. Finally, children of single-mother homes were twice as likely to be absent from school 11 or more days in a school year, due to illness or injury, compared with children in two-parent families.
How To Minimize The Effects Of Divorce On Children
Now that we know how divorce affects children, what are some ways we can minimize the effects?
Spending equal time with both parents
If the child spends more time with the father after the divorce, and that time is equal to the time they spend with their mother, then they will end up having a more positive relationship with both parents. However, for this to work, the father must have a positive reaction to the divorce and exhibit healthy behavior. The father's healthy behavior results in the better emotional well-being of the child. Therefore, fathers should focus on a healthy relationship with their children as the number one priority after divorce.
A strong mother-child relationship
Often a mother's relationship with her child changes after divorce. If interventions are made, such as counseling and the mother continuing strong discipline practices, studies show that this fosters a better coping ability of the child six months to six years after the intervention takes place. Therefore, mothers should place a top priority on nurturing a healthy relationship with their children after the divorce.
Financial support for the custodial parent
After a divorce, women are more likely than men to face economic challenges, receive public assistance, lose health insurance, and have decreased earning potential. These challenges result in a significant increase in child poverty.
If the parent who has more resources contributes to the financial well-being of the other parent, then their child will not be at risk of ending up in poverty. Usually, this responsibility rests on the father. Therefore, the non-custodial parent should focus on contributing financially to the custodial parent.
Availability of consistent support systems
Often when parents divorce, the custodial parent has to relocate after the divorce. Sometimes this means that the child loses their outside support system, resulting in a higher psychological risk to the child. If the parent can move to a location that doesn't interrupt the child's familiar support system, the child can adjust better to the divorce, and still, have their outside support system to lean on. Therefore, parents should focus on keeping their child as close to their support system as possible.
A healthy relationship between both parents
How parents get along after the divorce affects the child's well-being. Studies show that children from divorced families, where there was parental conflict, showed more caution about entering into relationships.
Furthermore, daughters of high-conflict families showed a higher rate of depression 10 years after the divorce. Therefore, parents should focus on getting along after the divorce, since this directly impacts their child's emotional state.
Lessons Learned About How Divorce Affects Children
Divorce can have detrimental results in the well-being of children. The effects include less time with each parent, less economic and emotional security, decreased social and psychological maturity, and loss of cognitive and academic stimulation. These effects may follow them well into adulthood, impacting many aspects of their lives.
If a child receives intervention during the divorce, they are more likely to have a healthier childhood. These interventions include a healthy relationship with both parents, the custodial parent giving healthy discipline to the child, financial support for the custodial parent, availability of consistent support systems, and a healthy relationship between the parents.
If the child has these interventions, they have the potential to grow into an adult who is successful, happy and well-adjusted. How divorce affects children falls on the early interventions that take place before the divorce can permanently impact the child.