Many decades ago, our culture began believing that unhappy parents would raise unhappy children. This caused many parents to decide to divorce for their children’s sake. Research spanning over 30 years, however, found that children suffer more and are less happy when their parents get a divorce. As a result, the parents are not any happier than their children. Divorce has both long-term and short-term affects on children.
About 40% of American children under the age of 18 years will experience their parents’ divorce. There are about 1,250,000 divorces a year in the United States. Therefore, many millions of children will experience their parents’ divorce. Parents should understand the short-term and long-term affects of divorce on children.
Short-Term Affects of Divorce on Children
During and immediately after a divorce, the affects on the children include depression, sadness, and anger. These lead to varied reactions, including the following reactions.
Non-compliance: Many children become non-compliant during a divorce. They might start getting into trouble (or getting into more trouble) at school, home, and at their activities.
Aggression: Sometimes, children become aggressive during a divorce. This may be an expression of frustration with their inability to influence or alter events.
Other consequences of divorce include the following things.
Less parental supervision: Sometimes parental supervision and parental influence is less after a divorce. For example, a parent who did not work outside the home during the marriage may have to seek employment. After the divorce, that parent will no longer be home when the children get home from school. Often, less supervision and less influence lead to the children getting into more trouble.
Economic hardship: Prior to divorce, the parents operated one household on their combined income. After the divorce, they operate two households on the same income. Add to this the cost of divorce and support payments, and most families experience real economic hardship during and after divorce. Divorce is a leading factor in causing people to file bankruptcy. Also, research shows that the children of divorced parents are about five times more likely to live in poverty than children of parents who are still married to each other.
Long-Term Affects of Divorce on Children
Common long-term affects of divorce on children include the following affects.
Increased chance of drug use and promiscuity: Teenage children of divorced parents are more likely to use alcohol or drugs and have sex than teenage children with parents who are still married to each other. This appears to especially be true with teenage girls with absent fathers.
Long-term emotional scars: Children of divorced parents sometimes have emotional scars into adulthood.
What to do About it
Parents can do many things to help their children deal with the affects of divorce, including the following items.
Get along with the other parent: This means no fighting, no arguing, peaceful transitions, and having a united front (for real, not just in front of the children). Genuinely being friends with the other parent is ideal. I realize that this is difficult, but the best thing that I have ever done for my daughter since her mother and I broke up is becoming friends with her mother.
Always act in your children’s best interest when dealing with the other parent: In all of these actions and decisions, ask yourself what is in your child’s best interest.
Do things as a family: If possible, still have family outings or meals, even if only occasionally. This shows your children that their parents don’t hate each other and that they still have a family.
Show them love: Make sure your children know that their mom and dad love them. Children are often insecure during and after a divorce.
Allow the children to vent without making your own comments: Children need to vent their frustrations. No condemning or making excuses for the other parent.
Have a backup plan: If the other parent sometimes disappoints the children by not showing up, be ready with something else for them so that they don’t sit around thinking about it.
Be flexible: Be willing to engage in a give-and-take with the other parent when it comes to parenting time. Rigidly adhering to the schedule undermines most of the other things on this list. Also, it just plain stinks for your children when they get an opportunity to do something special with the other parent but cannot do it because you will not be flexible.
Allow others to have a larger role: Sometimes single parents cannot do it all. Allowing grandparents, other family members, and close family friends to help when they want to help is not only easier for you, but often good for the children. What children don’t want to spend more time with their grandparents?
Make sure both parents are involved: This goes hand-in-hand with getting along with the other parent.
Here are two links with a lot more information about children of divorced parents: