Edward Beal and Gloria Hochman in their book “Adult Children of Divorce ” state, “Almost no one disputes that a home headed by a mother and father who are compatible provides the best environment for a child’s healthy development. A two-parent family, especially one where the parenting is constant and continuous, gives children the greatest emotional security.”
Well now you don’t have a functioning two parent household so no what. First and foremost your children need a lot of love and attention. Divorce is devastating to the child. Again quoting from Beal and Hochman, “Children of divorced parents are convinced that they have been cast out of the Garden of Eden. If only their parents had stayed together, they would feel more secure. They would be more stable. They would be capable of having more fulfilling relationships. They would achieve greater happiness.”
No matter how bad the marriage was, the child takes much of the divorce personally. No matter how reassuring you are able to be that it wasn’t the child’s fault – they still internalize a lot of guilt and anger. They frequently feel that they are somehow to blame for it all. “If I had been better, mom and dad would still be together”. They never really accept the divorce. They still think of you as a couple and they will try to bring you together. This is especially true on Christmas and other holidays and on birthdays.
When the non-custodial parent is picking them up, they will sometimes suggest the custodial parent come along. “Oh mom it won’t hurt if dad comes too. We’re just going to the park.” If you begin to date someone, the children are likely to ask, “Mom, can’t you just go out with dad?”
Depending on the age of your child at the time of divorce, he or she will react differently and have different needs for you to fill. Summarizing chapter three “The Difference Divorce Makes ” from Beal and Hochman, the youngest preschool children (ages two to three) regress and are fretful, bewildered and aggressive. Slightly older preschool children are whiny, tearful and aggressive. Five and six year olds are restless and often throw temper tantrums. Seven and eight year olds are simply sad. Nine and ten year olds are embarrassed and ashamed of their parent’s behavior.
Adolescents are often the hardest hit since it is a critical time in their own development as they try to wean their way away from the parents and out into the world. Teenagers are often angry and very judgmental.
Even when my oldest child was twenty-five and he still walked around talking about how people shouldn’t have children unless they can stay together and take care of them. He still harbored a lot of anger and hostility over the fact that his parents weren’t together for most of his life.
An excellent summary on the effects of divorce on children of various ages was written by the University of New Hampshire and is available at http://extension.unh.edu/family/documents/divorce.pdf
What can we as parents do to help our children through this difficult time in our lives? First and foremost, even though we may be sad or angry personally, we need to recognize our child’s concerns and reassure them that they did nothing wrong. Make sure they understand the divorce was not their fault.
Reassure them they will still have a relation with the other parent and “No”, they do not need to go get a new mom or dad. As painful as it may be for you, try to say nice things about your former partner to the children. No matter how upset you are, your children need to have a relation with your former spouse.
Try as much as possible to maintain some stability for your children, same school same friends etc if possible and try to communicate directly with your former spouse about the children’s needs and also the visitation schedule. Finally as I said previously, recognize that the children will continually try to reunite you. Just accept it. They still think of you as a couple and they will try to bring you together. This is especially true on Christmas and other holidays and birthdays.
For an excellent summary and lot’s of suggestions as to what to do during this difficult time see http://www.helpguide.org/mental/children_divorce.htm
Good luck in the days ahead. My wish for you is that your children grow up healthy, and contribute to society in a positive way. I’m here to help you get there. We’ll talk again. This is Len. Bye for now!