Lost in the Shuffle?
Divorce is not something that happens just between a husband and wife; 75 percent of all divorces occurs in families with children. In these families, the divorce is not complete until the children's needs have been met.
No matter how much parents try to hide marital conflict, children sense the tension. Once the divorce is announced, their reactions go through much the same stages as if a parent had died. Initially, they may deny the reality of divorce, insisting that the separation is only temporary. Denial is followed by anger, which may be directed at one or both parents, or turned inward. The third stage, desperation is marked by fears of abandonment or ridicule from friends and classmates, or of lifelong misery.
Conscious acceptance of the changes that divorce brings marks the final stage. However, it is not unusual for children to harbor unconscious hopes long after the divorce is final that their parents will reconcile someday.
What about school?
Studies have revealed that although children from divorced families had lower self-esteem than their peers from intact homes, there was no difference in their school performance. Children tend to bring their home environment to school so if a child is accustomed to constant friction at home, he will generate friction in school. Similarly, if a child sees love and closeness displayed at home, he will bring that behavior into the classroom. The crucial factor, studies indicate, is not whether the parents are married or divorced, but how much parental conflict children witness at home.
How well children ajust after divorce is affected by:
Parental relationship. If parents can put their personal grievances aside in favor of concern for the children's needs, the children will be less stressed by the divorce.
Parental example. Parents who model effective ways of dealing with their problems raise children who will have more emotional resiliency. Children whose parents have an adequate coping skills have fewer emotional resources to draw from during crisis.
Divorce introduces major changes in a child's life. Keeping the child in the same school, neighborhood or church will help minimize its impact.
Mother, son and father, daughter relationships are further complicated after a divorce if the child is a painfully constant reminder of the ex-spouse same sex custody arrangements, on the other hand limit opportunities for the child to learn to interact with the opposite sex. Children who are able to demand attention, even if it's by a whining, over dependency or miss behavior, heal faster than those who suffer silently.
Sex and the child.
Although families with sons are 18 percent more likely to stay together than families with daughters. Boys take longer to adjust to parental divorce than girls. They have more trouble concentrating in school and are more prone to delinquent behavior. Men whose parents have divorce are less interested in parenting and man from intact homes; women from divorced families may be overly interested in parenting.
Age of the child.
As the child gets older they are more likely to understand that the separation is due to parental conflict rather than failures in themselves.
Ages and stages
Children react differently to divorce depending upon her ages:
- Three and four year olds react by being durable and aggressive.
- Five and six-year-old's may be moody, but are able to talk about their fears and unhappiness.
- Seven and eight year olds react with grief, and later designation. Children at this age are learning to appreciate the meaning of kinship; it may take them longer to adjust to the change.
- 9,10 and 11 year olds react with intense anger, usually blaming one parent for the divorce. They may harbor unresolved anger for a year or longer.
- Teenagers react with anger, depression and guilt. Teenage boys may feel especially pressured to grow up quickly; teenage girls may blame the divorce on their mothers inadequacy as a wife.
Helping children cope...
- Explain the divorce simply and honestly in words to child can understand. Do try to hide or deny marital problems; the explanations children create for such tension are usually far worse than the actual fact.
- Avoid placing blame for the divorce. Disparaging the other parent only confuses children, who still love both of you. State genuinely positive things about the other parent whenever possible. Make sure the children know that they are not to blame; don't assume they know this without being told.
- Make it clear that you are "not divorcing" your children along with your spouse. Reassure them that both parents lovingly care for them even though you won't all be living together.
- Remember that your ex-spouse is not in competition with you for your children's love. Don't ask children to decide which parent to live with; it's a no-win situation for them, since they can only please one parent by rejecting the other.
- Disobedience and stubborness: this may be your child's way of communicating anger or insecurity about the divorce. Tell very young children a story about divorce parents who both continue to love their children. Drawing pictures can also help youngsters communicate feelings they can't otherwise express.
When you feel guilty about the effects of the divorce on your child, remember that unhappy homes cause emotional problems and delinquent behavior as often as before. The pain of divorce is a crisis that lessens with time; the tension of unhappy parents is constant.
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