Divorce represents a series of stressful experiences beginning with marital conflict and followed by a multitude of life changes. Most families going through divorce experience a year or more of crisis where each member’s life is seriously disrupted. The mother, who in 90% of the cases gets custody of the children is likely to be angry, depressed, lonely, or otherwise distressed, in the midst of also feeling relief that it’s over. Fathers also are distressed, especially if they have limited contact with their children. Both parents often feel isolated from their married friends and other couples activities they engaged in. Women with children usually face additional problems of less money, moving to a lower income neighborhood, and trying to work and raise children at the same time.
Mothers, overwhelmed by responsibility and their own emotional reactions to divorce often become edgy, impatient, and insensitive to their children’s needs. When their children misbehave, they tend to come down hard on them. Meanwhile fathers change in the opposite direction. They become permissive and indulgent of their children.
Children are often mad, fearful, and depressed, and may feel guilty as well. Less money to buy toys, moving to a new neighbourhood and leaving old friends behind, new roles and responsibilities, hardly ever seeing mom and dad together are some of the unwelcome changes children must cope with. They react to their mother’s impatience and coercive parenting by becoming whiny, argumentative, disobedient, and disrespectful. A low point in mother/child relations is reached about a year after divorce. This can lead to problem behaviors at home, a break down in peer relations, and academic difficulties plus conduct disorders at school.
Many reports show the impact of marital strife and divorce hits boys harder than girls. Even before divorce happens, boys are already showing more behavioral disruptions. After two years girls get over most of their social and emotional disturbances, whereas boys’ problems tend to linger on. It could be that boys are closer to their fathers, so they feel more frustration and a deeper sense of loss when their father is gone. Some investigators also point out that these studies focus on visible behaviors, rather than invisible psychological distress. Recent studies show that prior to and up to five years after divorce, girls experience more psychological distress.
In the long run children of divorce usually are better adjusted than those forced to watch their parents stick it out no matter what. Holding your marriage together for the sake of your kids is no longer the way to go. Unhappy marriages create unhappy children. You’re better off getting a divorce the professionals advise.
When compared to children from stable two-parent families, children of divorce still show more signs of psychological distress and academic difficulties four to six years later. This is especially true of children who were young when their parents divorced. Several common threads were shared by those children who coped best with divorce: having friends whose parents were also divorced, helped children deal with their feelings of bitterness and resentment; living with same-sex parent; adequate financial support; consistent, warm and authoritative parenting; keeping children out of the middle of their parent’s struggle and conflict; social and emotional support from noncustodial parent. Regular contact with a father who supports mother in her parenting role helps children make a better adjustment to living in a one parent home. If fathers are absent, mothers of boys are strongly advised to find good role models for their sons.
Many children are confused about how they should feel towards their parents after divorce. This creates several dynamics which never existed before. Children still love both their parents, even though their parents don’t love each other. Sometimes kids think they’ll lose one parent’s affection when they show love to the other one. Parents should tell their children over and over again that they’ll be loved they don’t have to stop loving their other parent. Both parents should talk about their ex-spouse in a nice way. Parents may be afraid of losing their children’s love. Children may take this opportunity to manipulate their parents into getting what they want. Parents are particularly vulnerable because they are competing for their children’s love. Despite the fact parents no longer love each other, they should try to communicate to each other about their children. This is the only way they can give their children the consistency and security they need.
If you find yourself feeling guilty about your divorce, try to cut them short. Guilt was never a good ally for parenting. You’ll end up letting your kids off the hook for their misbehaviours and giving in to their demands. A counsellor can help you work out your feelings without disturbing the relationship you have with your children. Your children could also benefit from having a safe person to talk to.
Remember also to continue treating your children as children. What happens after divorce sometimes is that the eldest child becomes the parents’ best friend, and is given adult status. Once given, this power is hard to take back. When parents try to set limits children may become rebellious.
Another suggestion for single parents is to establish or continue their careers. For most people, divorce is a deflating experience. Jobs go a long way in giving parents purpose and self-confidence. Plus, making children their sole purpose in life gives children power and pressure too stressful for them to manage. Along the same lines, it’s a good idea to pursue fun activities with other adults. This usually involves finding reliable babysitters or day-care facilities for their children.