Individuals of any age can experience emotional issues when their parents end their marriage. Parents interactions with each other and with their children during and after a divorce can profoundly affect their children’s ability to cope with life and with relationships, both now and into the future. When it comes to divorce, sons and daughters of any age are “children” of divorce.
Generally speaking, children’s responses to divorce are different based on their age. Issues can arise upon learning about the divorce or they can arise later during the divorce process itself. As a parent, be aware of these issues so you know how best to assist your children.
- Infants, toddlers and preschool children: Young children need frequent contact with both parents. A day is a long time to a young child, and a week is like an eternity. If you are the parent of a small child, do your very best to spend time with him or her as frequently as you can so that you can avoid a lengthy separation. Separations between a young child and their parent can cause anxiety and can affect the child’s ability to adjust to the changes that are occurring in his or her family structure.
- School children: Between the ages of 6 to 12, children may not see the divorce as a reality and as permanent. It is common for a school-age child to have wishful thinking for his parents’ reconciliation. A school-age child may also feel that he or she is responsible for the divorce. Lacking the power to save their parent’s marriage, children can experience significant levels of stress which can lead them to act out, withdraw or regress at home or in the classroom. It is important for your child to know that your divorce has nothing to do with him or her, and it is important for your child to have a safe place to share his worries, fears and sadness.
- Emerging adults: From middle school and even through college, a parents’ divorce can effect self-esteem and academic achievement. Older children can become worried about the stability of their own future, for instance if mom and dad will have enough money after all to assist with college. Since they are closer to adulthood, divorcing parents sometimes involve their children in their disagreements without thinking of the harm it causes. No matter the age, you must always protect your children from the issues between you and your spouse.
- Adult children: Even fully-grown children can become victims of their parents’ divorces. In addition to being asked to pick sides in disputes, they can become involved in open, frank and uncomfortable discussions with parents about sex and dating future partners. Those discussions should be had with your friends, not with your children, even when your “children” are all grown up.
Parents who make the right decisions and choose appropriate behaviors during the divorce can significantly reduce the stress their children experience as a result. Whenever possible, display a cooperative spirit with the other parent to show your children that you are still committed to raising them together, even if from different households. This means continuing to make decisions regarding your children together and also communicating with and disciplining the children together. For instance, if your son lost a privilege for a week because of something he said to your ex-spouse two days ago and your parenting time is about to begin, keep that suspension in place for the remaining five days at your house to show your children that mom and dad are still a united front.
Even when circumstances create a highly contentious situation, parents need to stay focused with a long-term view towards keeping the best interests of their children front and center at all times. An experienced divorce lawyer can assist parents in keeping their divorce issues in perspective so that a healthy, working co-parenting relationship can still be maintained post-divorce.
Despite your divorce, the one thing you and your ex will always have in common is your children and your unconditional love for them. Do your best to support your children’s relationship with your ex and to parent your children together, despite your divorce. Your children will thank you for it.