How Divorce Affects Children

How Divorce Affects Children


Negative effects of divorce on children

Divorce is a painful experience for all members of a family. It represents a loss that must be grieved for. Even extended family members, such as in-laws, feel the pain of divorce when they have to adjust to losing a beloved family member. But no one is impacted by a divorcing couple as much as children.

When parents separate, a child is literally stuck in the middle. Their home lives are shattered, their sense of safety and security becomes turned upside-down and, in bitter separations, they are exposed to high levels of stress, often having to “choose” one parent over the other. Children do not have the life experiences that adults do, and can be overcome with fear and stress, having little control or say over their own lives.

Divorce and Children

Often, children of divorce will lose their home base and the security that came from that environment. If they stay in their home, they will need to adjust to residing there with only one parent. In this case, they will be exposed to constant loss, with reminders of the other parent everywhere they look. Just as in losing a loved one in death, children might be thinking they hear the garage door opening, with dad coming home from work. A child might think they heard mom in the kitchen. It is difficult to remain in such a dramatically different living space when one parent is now missing.

On the other hand, sometimes a child moves out because the parents need to sell the home. Some children are subjected to changing cities, school and, in turn, friends. If children stay in the same town, they will have the benefit of friends and classmates for support. However, they will have to adjust to a new home or neighborhood. Often, if divorcing parents are financially strained, they will be living in a smaller house or apartment, which takes a lot of adjusting to as well. As you can see, whether a child remains in the same home or moves into another location, they will be continually exposed to many stressful transitions along with grieving tremendous loss.

Aside from the how divorce negatively affects children where their physical homes are concerned, there is also the emotional toll that a child with divorcing parents is exposed to. How a parent handles the separation process directly impacts the mental health of their son or daughter.

A child has grown up with the security of having mom and dad around – always. With the exception of much older children, most youngsters don’t know about relationship dynamics. In their realities, their parents will be together forever. Expecting a child to adjust without the assistance of helpful, healthy parents is unrealistic. They need each parent to keep them out of the middle, no matter how bitter the divorce. A child cannot choose who they love best, because they love them both. Parents who bad mouth each other to their child or try to win their affection with gifts are not putting their child’s needs first.

Understandably, divorce happens. If a child is in an abusive environment or sees mom and dad fighting and screaming each night, that certainly isn’t healthy either. The problem often lies with the fact that parents in pain start directing their emotional energy on themselves, when they really need to find that inner strength to help their child first. Children need safety and stability as they develop and that is the responsibility parents take on when deciding to have a child. If divorce is inevitable, be sure to take time to think about how divorce negatively affects children, and consider getting you, your spouse and your child counseling, to help make this transition as painless as possible. An amicable divorce will be healthier for the entire family.

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