Photo by Barefoot Blonde
No matter how amicably it happens, the end of a marriage is a nuclear bomb in the life of a child. While it’s undeniably hard for you and your ex-partner to go through the process of undoing “’til death do us part,” it’s something entirely different in the mind of a child. The impact of divorce on kids is undeniably an experience of its own.
Many adults, seeing the bigger picture, will reason that their kids will be fine because it is surely better for everyone this way. So, parents might be tempted to brush feelings under the rug and assume their children can handle it.
If your family is going through a divorce, it is extremely important that you keep open communication with your children. Reassurance is key. They will need lots of it.
Understanding what is going through your child’s mind and why will help you when you set out to talk to them about what’s happening and how they feel.
The way young children will respond to divorce is much different than the way adolescents will.
Young children will regress and become more dependent. In an article from Psychology Today, Dr. Pickhardt explains, “The child’s world is a dependent one, closely connected to parents who are favored companions, heavily reliant on parental care, with family the major focus of one’s social life.”
Young children assume that the divorce is somehow their fault – that they did something or that there is some way about them that made life harder for their parents.
Dr. Carl Pickhardt reminds parents that to a young child, the world revolves around them. So, when Mom and Dad split up, the natural thought process is, “What did I do?”
This is where the reassurance needs to come in. Children who have gone through a divorce need to be reminded that it isn’t their fault and that Mom and Dad will never stop loving them.
No matter how young or how old your child is, it is confusing for them to see their parents, their whole world, break their commitment to love one another. If Mom and Dad broke their marriage vow and stopped loving each other, what’s to say they won’t stop loving me?
Of older children and adolescents, Dr. Pickhardt says, “The adolescent world is a more independent one, more separated and distant from parents, more self-sufficient, where friends have become favored companions, and where the major focus of one’s social life now extends outside of family into a larger world of experience.”
While younger children might be clingier, an older child might respond with anger and detachment. They might feel betrayed.
Another difficulty that children of divorce face is the “picking sides” aspect of the whole thing. When children see their parents argue, they feel obligated to pick sides, but know that by picking a side, they are betraying one parent.
Being in a home with parents who argue, or being in a broken home with parents who talk bad about each other in front of the child is equally damaging, putting the child into an impossible scenario.
You need to be mindful not to trash talk your ex-spouse in front of your children.
Don’t make your child choose.
Divorce impacts kids in a big way, but if it’s something your family is facing, there are ways to help your child. No matter how old your child is, be reassuring. Talk about what’s going on as much as your child wants to talk about it. And, of course, don’t put your child in the impossible position of picking sides. Try to speak of your ex-spouse respectfully, for the sake of your child’s wellbeing.
After divorce comes the art of single parenting. SmartMom has some advice on that as well.