of every two marriages today ends in divorce and many divorcing
families include children. Parents who are getting a divorce
are frequently worried about the effect the divorce will have
on their children. During this difficult period, parents may
be preoccupied with their own problems, but continue to be
the most important people in their children's lives.
parents may be devastated or relieved by the divorce, children
are invariably frightened and confused by the threat to their
security. Some parents feel so hurt or overwhelmed by the
divorce that they may turn to the child for comfort or direction.
Divorce can be misinterpreted by children unless parents tell
them what is happening, how they are involved and not involved
and what will happen to them.
often believe they have caused the conflict between their
mother and father. Many children assume the responsibility
for bringing their parents back together, sometimes by sacrificing
themselves. Vulnerability to both physical and mental illnesses
can originate in the traumatic loss of one or both parents
through divorce. With care and attention, however, a family's
strengths can be mobilized during a divorce, and children
can be helped to deal constructively with the resolution of
should be alert to signs of distress in their child or children.
Young children may react to divorce by becoming more aggressive
and uncooperative or withdrawing. Older children may feel
deep sadness and loss. Their schoolwork may suffer and behavior
problems are common. As teenagers and adults, children of
divorce often have trouble with their own relationships and
experience problems with self-esteem.
will do best if they know that their mother and father will
still be their parents and remain involved with them even
though the marriage is ending and the parents won't live together.
Long custody disputes or pressure on a child to "choose sides"
can be particularly harmful for the youngster and can add
to the damage of the divorce. Research shows that children
do best when parents can cooperate on behalf of the child.
ongoing commitment to the child's well-being is vital. If
a child shows signs of distress, the family doctor or pediatrician
can refer the parents to a child and adolescent psychiatrist
for evaluation and treatment. In addition, the child and adolescent
psychiatrist can meet with the parents to help them learn
how to make the strain of the divorce easier on the entire
family. Psychotherapy for the children of a divorce, and the
divorcing parents, can be helpful.
#1 (Updated 8/98)