Breakups are hard on everyone, and whether the love died or a toxic relationship made you take the brave step to leave, there is usually trauma, heartache, and a profound sense of loss. For children who may not have understood the dynamic at play between their parents, divorce is disruptive and often confusing.
A Healthline article explores, “What’s the hardest age for Children to see their parents Split?” The impact differs at every age and stage of a child’s development; however, the takeaway is that how we manage divorce and separation can make a huge difference in how well our children get through it.
There are many challenges for children of divorced parents, some of which include:
- Reduced contact with one of the parents, most likely the father, since custodial arrangements invariably result in significantly reduced access for the non-custodial parent; this often irrevocably damages that parent-child bond.
- Anxiety, fear and self-blame, particularly among young children who don’t fully understand why one parent is no longer in the family home. Children often blame themselves as well as fear that the other parent may also leave.
- Trauma arising from witnessing arguments and negativity between parents whose relationship has become untenable.
- Instability due to one or both parents manipulating their children to hurt or control their ex. Children are the innocent victims of their parent’s choices; the Weaponisation of Children is harmful and should be avoided.
- Confusion caused by inconsistent parenting. Developing an effective co-parenting strategy, where values, routines and rules are the same, irrespective of which home the child is in, will greatly assist your child(ren) in adapting to divorce.
- Strained dynamic with the custodial parent, facing the stressors and challenges of single parenting, much of which may be brought to bear on the children.
So how do we mitigate the potential for long-term emotional and potentially psychological harm to our children resulting from divorce? We do so by consciously and deliberately putting our pain and acrimony aside, and seeking to prioritise the only aspect of marriage we can’t undo, which is the children.
While joint assets can be separated, physical distance can be achieved and personal contact reduced, children require much more investment and commitment to ensure their emotional well-being. As one of the two people who brought the children into this world, each party needs to see the responsibility of parenting through.
Sadly, this is not always the case, and despite our best effort to take the high road, at times, one has to deal with a narcissistic idiot who will never get on board with best practice and seek to frustrate you at every turn. It won’t be easy, but Talking Parents provides some useful guidelines for Co-parenting with a Narcissist, which, in summary, include, keeping communication to a minimum, having a legally worked out structured plan, recognising that you can only control yourself in the situation, modelling emotional intelligence in the presence of your children, and building a village that can give you support.
Another traumatic scenario arises when an ex sees divorce as a ticket to ride out, leaving the custodial parent to raise the kids and deal with the fallout of abandonment. Wendy Miller, a coach and relationship writer, has some advice regarding What to do when you Ex Bails on the Kids. She advocates that it is essential to tell the children the truth, but in a manner that is gentle and not brutally honest. She also suggests that you don’t block the other parent, as that could have legal ramifications, and your ex may just turn the blame on you for not being “allowed” to be there for the kids. Encourage the kids to talk/write about how they feel and to keep their questions about the disappearance of their other parent for that parent when the opportunity arises to ask them.
If you see no alternative but divorce in your future, or if you have already separated but are botching the co-parenting and harming your children, you and your ex owe it to the children to consider adopting more effective Parental Steps to Reduce the Emotional Harm of Divorce on Children. According to this article featured in Divorce Mag.Com, failure to get this right could have very serious implications for your child(ren) including:
- Increased risk for mental health problems
- Behavioural problems
- Academic problems
- Children being more likely to take risks/engage in risky behaviours
- Problems that may extend into adulthood
Many of the social problems of the day can be tied back to childhood trauma, and regrettably, the stability of family life and kids having parents who stay together is a rare and diminishing occurrence. But if adults mess up, it does not necessarily prevent them from still raising happy and whole children; they just need to have the mutual will to do so. Succeeding at this may improve the odds of raising well-adjusted children with the skills to navigate healthier relationships of their own.