Divorced families

Father reading to young daughter

The impact of divorce on adults

Divorce is a very painful process for all involved. Parents often feel anger or hostility and experience grief and loss. Divorce is not only the loss of a marriage, but also often severely affects finances, lifestyles, friendships and family ties. Uncertainty about the future brings stress. It is natural for parents to feel confused, isolated and depressed.

While it is difficult to do at a time of such intense feeling, parents should avoid blaming one another for the marital problems and begin working toward a successful parenting relationship.

Children experience fears about their future. They feel a great sense of loss through the separation from one of the two most important people in their lives. Young children often feel some responsibility for the breakup. Their behavior may regress and they may feel rejected by the leaving parent. Older children often display anger at the parent they perceive as responsible for the separation. Their sense of personal identity is shaken. They suffer from issues of loyalty to one parent or the other. Teens often feel a sense of right and wrong and may blame one parent. They also are affected more by financial insecurities. Teens have a need to confirm their sexual identity which can be confused by the ending of their parents’ marriage. A new awareness of their parents as sexual beings may make them feel uncomfortable.

Guidelines for parents

  • Give children permission to feel positively about both parents. Children gain their own self-esteem from their concept of both parents. When children are not allowed to feel good about both parents, their own self-esteem suffers.
  • Acknowledge that this is a painful time for everyone, and allow time for adjustment.
  • Parents must end their conflict and move forward. Continuing bitterness and conflict is more damaging to the children than the divorce itself.
  • Reassure children that they are not to blame for the breakup, and that they will continue to be cared for and loved, even when they don’t express these insecurities.
  • Keep your criticisms and anger toward the other parent away from the children. This may be difficult, but it is essential.
  • Provide consistency wherever possible in friendships, school, daycare, neighborhoods, etc. Consistency in routine and discipline are important ways to offer a sense of security amidst change.
  • Encourage children to talk about the divorce and their feelings.
  • Remember the good times and talk about them with the children.
  • Seek support for yourself and the children through contacts with important others. Professional counseling may be very beneficial to help you and the children cope with the hurt and changes in your lives.
  • Make new goals for yourself. Your life is going forward.

Remember that how well parents adjust to the divorce will in large part determine how well the child will adjust.