Parenting Skills: Divorce
October 17, 2018 | Pennsylvania Counseling Services, Inc.
The legal dissolution of marriage, leaving the partners free to remarry.
Divorce may significantly influence well-being, with many individuals experiencing depression, loneliness and isolation, self-esteem difficulties or other psychological distress. Parental divorce also has been shown to have negative consequences on the psychosocial adjustment of children and adolescents.
As divorce becomes more common in Western cultures, more children are feeling the long-term effects of separation. Children experience a different pain than their parents do, often causing conflict and distance between family members.
The following five questions are issues children of divorce often struggle with but don’t know how to talk about.
What will divorce mean for me?
Ideally, children experiencing divorce should begin to learn what divorce will mean for them before the separation. Parents should explain the decision and how it will affect their everyday life.
Children may have questions about where and with whom they’ll live, what will happen to an absent parent and more. Establishing open communication and trust despite the separation is essential to help the child process their emotions about the changes rather than suppressing them.
Is it okay to feel angry?
Some children may feel angry about the situation, but anger is a complex emotion to understand. Many children don’t understand why they feel angry and are unsure if they’re allowed to feel it. As a result, they suppress their anger, which can lead to challenging feelings like depression and anxiety.
During and after the divorce, parents can help their children by staying alert to increased habits of isolation, aggression, disobedience, recklessness, apathy or other unusual behaviors. It’s normal for children to act differently during times of significant life change. But most children need a parent or adult they trust to help them balance the urge to suppress their anger or recklessly express it.
Why does it hurt so much?
Unfortunately, there are many similarities between the grief following divorce and the grief following death. Children need to deal with the losses that divorce brings.
Open communication can be helpful, allowing the child to express sadness, loss and other thoughts about a parent leaving. Parents who remain concerned and involved will be helpful allies for the child’s mental health.
When are you coming back?
Children need to accept the permanence of the divorce. Parents and other family members sometimes try to protect the child by minimizing the reality of the divorce or concealing important information, therefore encouraging the child to deny the finality of the separation.
While denial can provide the protection, time and space a child needs to adjust to their new lifestyle, the child’s family and loved ones need to encourage them to face reality, ask questions and regain trust. As fears subside, the child will feel safer and more willing to process their feelings.
Is love worth it?
Divorce sometimes makes children feel like loving and being loved is more risky than it is worth it; however, love is always worth it.
Continued demonstration of love and commitment by parents, family members and friends can contribute to the child’s willingness to form relationships in the future. This is especially important for teens as they begin to build their own long-term relationships.
If you, your family or a family you know needs help coping with divorce, we’re here. Check out our outpatient services page for a full range of treatment options including individual counseling, child and adolescent services, couples, marriage and family therapy, and more.