Divorce hurts. It’s really, really hard. Even if you have good reasons for choosing divorce, it’s a choice that unfortunately affects many people. One of the most searched-after questions is, does divorce affect children? If so, how? Perhaps you are even pursuing a divorce in order to give your children a better life. How can you protect your children from the damage of divorce? How does divorce affect children?
We reviewed a study by David H. Demo and Alan C. Acock (1), which composited a wide range of literature on this subject. Our main questions were:
- How does divorce affect children’s emotions?
- How does divorce affect children’s social behavior?
- How does divorce affect children’s academic performance?
- How does divorce affect a child’s personality and gender role orientation?
- How can I protect my child from divorce?
A Two-Parent Home is Important for Children
Even if a divorce is necessary, it’s important to know the function of a two-parent household in a child’s development. By two-parent household, we mean that both parents are the biological parents of all children in the home, aside from any adopted children, and they are married to each other. There are, of course, two-parent homes composed of remarried couples or unmarried couples. The model household in Demo and Acock’s article is also a household in which the parents are not constantly in conflict, and one in which there is one parent of each sex. It is important for children of both sexes to have role models of the same sex for their emotional processing, behavior, and personality development. How does divorce affect children?
How Divorce Affects Children’s Emotions
Processing emotions is a critical part of decision making, and our emotions affect the course of our lives more than we may like. Daughters learn how to process emotions from their mothers; sons from their fathers. Conflict, separation, and divorce between parents are all harmful for children’s emotional development. The absence of a father seems to have a particularly adverse effect on daughters. Young girls without a father present are more insecure than those with a father. Insecurity can lead to many terrible life choices, such as being involved in an abusive relationship or failing to develop a strong career. In addition, both boys and girls scored lower in self-esteem when they were in divorced families. Young children have a hard time processing the loss of a parent, and they often partially blame themselves, thinking that they were not good enough to keep their parents in the home. How does divorce affect children?
How Divorce Affects Children’s Social Behavior
When a parent leaves the home or the parent-child relationship is otherwise damaged by divorce, children develop a fear of being abandoned (2). This makes it more difficult for them to develop and retain peer relationships. They can also learn to distrust and even disrespect adult figures in their lives. Their social behavior is often marked by great anxiety and antisocial tendencies. Conflict becomes very difficult for children of divorced parents, because they have learned that it leads to terrible things. Children of divorced parents also tend to have poor relationships with the opposite gender, as well as abusive tendencies toward alcohol, drugs and other substances. Crime rates and suicide rates are higher among children of divorced parents than children with intact families. How does divorce affect children?
How Divorce Affects Children’s Academic Performance
Both conflict and divorce weigh heavily on a child’s mind and heart. When a child is in either of these home situations, it becomes very challenging to perform in school. Demo and Acock’s study reports children not completing their homework and not being able to focus in class. They score lower on academic achievement tests than their peers. This can be contributed partially to the discord occurring at home, but low self-esteem and poor relationships with peers and teachers are also factors.
How Divorce Affects Children’s Personality and Gender Role Orientation
When a child loses their same-sex parent – when a daughter loses her mother or a son his father – it drastically shapes that child’s personality development. Children look to their same-sex parents for guidance, and those parents strongly influence these children’s subconscious thoughts and self-talk. Validation from a same-sex parent, or lack thereof, is enough to change a child’s decision in the early years. There is a particular trend among boys who lose the presence of their biological father. These boys no longer have a male role model to look up to, thus they adopt many more feminine traits than their male peers with intact families. Girls, too, are affected; they learn to distrust men and assume more mature, provisional roles, because that’s what they see their mothers doing. Children of divorced parents, both boys and girls, were found to be more androgynous than the control group. How does divorce affect children?
How to Protect Your Child During Divorce
Don’t despair! Divorce is overwhelming, and so is reading these statistics. But there are ways to protect and love your child well, no matter what direction your marriage is going.
Firstly, make sure you’ve considered all of your options for salvaging your marriage. Your children will survive your divorce, yes, but some of the scars are unavoidable. The stability of a two-person home is not something to be taken lightly. If there is anything you can do to fight for this stability on behalf of your children, we encourage you to do it. Perhaps you could try marriage counseling – or a different marriage counselor, if you’ve already tried one. The health of a marriage depends on both spouses, but don’t underestimate the power of your own words and choices. Doing small acts of kindness, consistently, could cause your spouse to turn around. Just don’t give up on the possibilities until divorce is truly your only choice.
If that’s the place you’re in, and you’re planning, pursuing, or recovering from a divorce, then you still have some options for loving your children well in the process. Firstly, the age of your children strongly dictates how harmed they will be by the divorce. Children younger than two years old are too young to take on any responsibility for the separation. Children between 6 and 10 years old, however, will be the most impacted (3). These are formative years for a child, and the divorce may come to define entire aspects of their lives.
It is also important to consider how you involve your children in the divorce, and how much. Talking to your children about your emotions too much, or slandering your spouse, is not good for their mental and emotional health. Focus on their experience and help them process it. Be as available as you can to listen and care for them. Your children need to hear that the separation is not their fault. Your relationship with your children may change during this process, especially if your children are older, so taking them to therapy might also be a helpful step.
Your life is certainly not over after a divorce . (Read this article for more help – How Do I Get Over the Pain of My Divorce?) and neither is your child’s. Think of this as a new season, brimming with possibilities. It will hurt for a while, and that’s okay. But there is hope. Joy is still available for you!
If you would like to experience the joy that only comes from God, we invite you to watch the BREAT NEWS FOR YOU Video on. this page.
- MAJOR STUDY ASSESSES THE CHILDREN OF DIVORCE By …www.nytimes.com › 1984/04/10 › science › major-study-…