Divorce is the separation of husband and wife after being legally married. Most times the divorce process is very painful to the couples, but the most affected are the children who lack the mechanism to fully comprehend the basis of their parents' separation.
This paper is going to look at the effects of this process depending on the age of the child.
The separation of a husband and wife in a divorce situation can have serious and devastating effects not only for the separating couples but to the children as well. Often times the divorcing couples are too consumed with their own emotional burdens to clearly understand the trauma the divorce causes to the children. Children seemingly bear the brunt of the separation especially psychologically. (Emery, R. E., 96)
However, not all divorces end up hurting children. Children in an abusive and violent marriage may in fact be spared much of the physiological torture if the parents just separated. Thus divorce can sometimes be a welcome process for the well being of the children. (Emery, R. E., 126)
Various studies have in fact indicated that some children actually thrive better after being brought up in a divorce environment. Children become more responsible and loving especially because they are raised by a single parent. However, it is critical to note that the negative effects much more outweigh the positive effects. (Emery, R. E., 46)
So, how are children affected by divorce? Sociologists, psychologists and other researchers have continued to study out this question and sometimes it has generated so much controversy. But all agree that indeed divorce most often times is not good for children especially when the family unit is put at risk. Studies have continued to show that children equate divorce to the pain of death of one of the parent. The experience itself brings great loss, sadness, grief and in many cases confusion to the affected children. Children may also end up blaming themselves for what has happened and tend to think that parents do not love them any more. (Emery, R. E.,123)
Research world over has continued to indicate that the effects of divorce differ because of various factors; depends on the age of the child at the time of divorce, gender and personality of the child, the level of family/friends support and the extent of the conflict between the parents
Age of children
Divorce does not have any serious effects on children less than 3 years. Children below this age might not have the opportunity to understand conflict and might not have developed so much of a serious relationship with one of the parents. Nevertheless, if the relationship had established a bond, it may have some short-term effects. The only thing that might affect these children is the low mood and energy level of the parent albeit for a short while. This effect may be characterized by appetite lose, or upset stomach including vomiting. (Emery, R. E., 132)
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Children between 3-5 years are in a position to understand conflict and divorce will have an obvious effect on their well-being. Children at this age end up believing that they are the cause of the divorce, and blame themselves for it. For example they might reason out that if they ate their dinner or obeyed when told to do so, daddy wouldn't have left. The children at this age fear being left alone and would behave like toddlers by unknowingly wetting their beds, wanting their security blankets and old toys. They may end up being depressed, angry and uncooperative. They may also resort to aggressive and disobedient behavior. (Emery, R. E., 135)
Children at the age of 6-10 years are school-age children. Many psychologists believe that this is the worst age where the effects of divorce are felt. Children at this age have the capacity to understand the pain brought about by the separation of the parents. However, they lack the capability to understand how to control their reactions to the pain caused. (Emery, R. E., 142)
The school-aged children may experience severe psychological turmoil like embarrassment, grief, resentment, divided loyalty and at times intense anger. They may also feel rejected by the leaving parent and have cases of stomachaches and headaches. These children can cope easily with the situation if they get involved actively with play and other activities with their peers (Emery, R. E., 145)
Children aged between 10-16 are already pre-teens or teens and are now adolescents. They are in a position to understand the reasons leading up to the divorce. This is because they can easily remember the stress and conflict preceding such a divorce. Such ability to remember may at the some time interfere with the capability to handle the changes that occur in the family. (Emery, R. E., 155)
The teen may also be faced with emotional strain because of the pressure of trying to side with one parent as opposed to the other. This would involve faulting one parent over the other as the sole cause for the divorce. (Emery, R. E., 156)
At this age they are likely to experience anger, depression, loneliness and guilt. They also end up taking various responsibilities to fill in the gap the parent has left. Such responsibilities would include house chores and caring for other siblings. This may make them feel pushed to adult-hood. Some in response to the low energy and high stress levels from the parent may want to take control of the family. The teens at this time also would be undergoing various sexual changes and may get affected because of lack of parental support. (Emery, R. E., 159)
Witnessing the pain of divorce may also have serious implication on the teen's perception on how well they would stay in a marriage in the future. (Emery, R. E., 159)
Various research findings have revealed that gender of the child plays a significant role on the effects of divorce on the respective children. It has been seen that boys raised by their fathers and girls raised by their mothers do better than vice versa.
Boys of school age, who live with their fathers, seem to be less aggressive and have low emotional problems compared to boys living with their mothers who lack any contact with the fathers. (Emery, R. E., 164)
On the other hand, girls raised by their mothers seem to be more responsible and mature than those ones raised by the fathers. (Emery, R. E., 164)
All said and done divorce has devastating and traumatic effects on the children. However the society at large has the responsibility of making it easier for the children. When parents are well supported through the divorce process especially how to incorporate the children can play a major role to alleviate serious implications.
The most important thing for the children would be to adjust to the changes and the quality of child-parent relationship would come in handy
Emery, R. E. (1988): Marriage, divorce and children's adjustments. Newbury
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