According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of marriages in America end in divorce. Unfortunately, children often end up being affected by such break-ups, calling for many things to be considered before moving forward.
While most divorces are not with families who have children, a fair amount do. A divorce can be traumatic for a child at any age – from baby to teenager to adult. Knowing what to do and what to say to help your child prepare for such a life-changing decision is imperative.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has established seven points to keep in mind when notifying children of your decision:
- Do not keep it a secret or wait until the last minute.
- Tell your child together with your spouse.
- Keep things simple and straight-forward.
- Tell them the divorce is not their fault.
- Admit that this will be sad and upsetting for everyone.
- Reassure your child that you both still love them and will always be their parents.
- Do not discuss each other’s faults or problems with the child.
The child of a divorced couple will almost certainly face an uphill battle and is susceptible to mental trauma that can severely interfere with their day-to-day living.
Not all children handle divorce as well as others, and the effects vary according to age. Perhaps a young child will fall behind in school work, or an older child loses faith in the institution of marriage and fails at his own personal relationships.
Focus on the Family, a Christian ministry organization, adds to that list of effects, including a higher risk for incarceration, living in poverty because of a significant loss of income from the parent, engagement in drug or alcohol abuse, and both psychological distress and physical health deterioration.
These are, of course, just some of the risks, and not all children go through such a difficult time. It is therefore tremendously important to help your child understand that this is a decision you and your husband or wife have come to together and that they should not be afraid to talk about any questions they have with you.
Focus on the Family notes that communication is key if you expect your marriage to end amicably between all parties involved, including your children. The pro-family Christian organization, led by Jim Daly, suggests that spending time with a counselor or support group.
”The best way for your child to heal is for you to get healthy and strong first,” the FOTF ministry asserts. “The group should offer encouragement, tools and coping skills. It should also provide the camaraderie you need so your child isn’t forced to be your comforter and counselor.”
A church or local community center may have support groups already set up, so don’t forget to tap into these resources as your disposal.
Other advice Focus on the Family provides is to give your kids space and time. Let them enjoy life as they usually do – let them play and have fun, and don’t involve children in the specifics of your divorce such as financial issues or any disheartening notions about your spouse that you might harbor. No matter how you ended your relationship with your significant other, it is important that both sides work together for the benefit of the children.
According to research on divorce and children conducted by psychologist Judith Wallerstein and published in 2000, divorce has a significant impact on children well into their future. It is not easy for children to focus on life after a divorce because things are so different from their regular family life. The entire structure to their day has been interrupted and changed, probably even more than you might think, and possibly even more than it has changed for yourself. Children are reminded of divorce at every holiday and family gathering, special school event and birthday, from the time of the divorce into their future adult lives.
If divorce is inevitable in your family, be sure you have the correct resources available to you and think creatively and seriously about your children and how a break-up will affect the entire family.
Divorce is not a decision to be made lightly; it requires a great deal of thought on both the immediate and long-term consequences. After all, God designed marriage and says in Genesis 2:24 that when a husband and wife come together, they are one flesh. In Matthew 5:32, He reminds us that He only allows divorce in the event of marital unfaithfulness, and doesn’t suggest such a division, but only says He tolerates it, as a primary reason for marriage is the proper protection and nurture of children.