When a couple divorces, any children from the union generally are the ones worst affected by the termination of the marriage. The anxiety and distress felt by these kids is exacerbated when they feel like the rope in a tug-of-war match between their parents.
Since divorce has become so common in our society, with almost half of all marriages ending in divorce in the U.S, we have started to accept it as a normal part of life. Many people think that just because it is a common occurrence, it will be perfectly acceptable to the children as well. But even if the children accept the fact that their parents got divorced, it doesn’t mean that the children won’t feel the mental effects of it. Children can feel depressed, abandoned, anxious, or even angry. As adults and parents we need to understand that divorce can be both confusing and stressful for children, and these emotions can manifest themselves in different ways, affecting the children’s mental health.
Children tend to suppress feelings
Children often keep their feelings to themselves for any number of reasons. As parents, the adults often don’t recognize that children might be hiding their feelings and as a result, they believe that their kids are all right. Children may suppress their feelings about divorce for many reasons including but not limited to:
- They’re afraid to further upset their parents
- They’re unsure how to say what they feel
- They’re too absorbed in their grief
- They’re afraid to bring up in case they make the fighting worse
Effects of divorce on children
Children suffer through various effects when it comes to divorce. Some short term effects faced by children include
- lower self-esteem
- increased anxiety
- increased depression
- less quality contact with parents
- decreased standard of living
However, some effects last longer and can even be carried through to adulthood. As adults, these children might have issues like
- psychological difficulties
- poor relationships with their parents
- increased likelihood of getting divorced themselves
Children’s response to divorce
There are three main responses exhibited by children in response to divorce
- Avoiding their emotions.
Children put on a brave face for their parents but because of this, parents often do not discover the true emotions felt by the child.
- Being aggressive.
Children also cope by becoming aggressive. They can lash out at their parents and others around them. They mimic the aggression and conflict they see their parents going through.
- Children often handle their emotions by confronting their parents. While this might be a more effective way for children to handle the conflict, most children find it difficult to do.
How can parents handle it?
In addition to visiting the Divorce Mistakes Network for more dos and don’ts regarding how to handle your children during divorce, here are three parents can do to ensure the mental health of their children.
- Parents should explain the situation to their children and be on hand to listen to their children. Parents should understand that children may take a longer time to heal from the trauma of divorce than adults. Parents should also provide sufficient information to their children about the divorce to help them understand the situation and minimize any insecurities and uncertainties the children may have.
- Parents should remain civil in front of their children. Maintain as amiable a relationship with your ex as possible.
- Parents should ensure that the children have a solid support system. While you and your ex might drift apart and your mutual social network would disintegrate, your kids still need friends or family members with whom they can comfortable share their feelings. Some community organizations, schools, and religious institutions run support groups for children from broken families. It is imperative that the children feel that they have someone to confide in, especially someone who can understand what they have been going through in terms of divorce.
On a final note, as a newly divorced parent, you need to go easy on yourself. Don’t try to overcompensate for your children. Let them see your vulnerability and know that you too are going through a tough time. What is most important is that your children realize that you are there for them, and you love them unconditionally.