Divorce is always a dreadful experience in a persons life, especially a childs. When parents divorce, children are not always acknowledged during the termination and settlement process. This oversight can lead to problems with the child’s perception of day to day life. The impact divorce has on a family is far more noticeable to the children of the family than to the parents. As a child, there are many circumstances or situations that affect a view, opinion, attitude, and/or memory. Children have many daily struggles of their own to cope with, such as peer pressure and learning exactly who they are. Adults and parents sometimes forget what it is like to be a child dealing with some of the childhood pressures that children face, especially in today’s society. Many parents do not realize how something like divorce could possibly affect their children as much as it does them. In any case, most children are strongly affected by divorce. Some react and handle the situation differently than others, but all experience some kind of emotional change.
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Divorce can cause many different emotions to arise that children may be unfamiliar with, and those behaviors may cause some behavioral changes. Feeling angry and sad are some common feelings of children dealing with divorce (Schor, 2004). Children have a hard time comprehending why their mother and father are arguing and cannot figure out why they are deciding to separate. The family needs to try their best to explain to the child why they are separating, while comforting the child as much as possible (Schor, 2004).
“Much research has been conducted to study the effects of divorce on children. While there are some basic truths these studies reveal, the fact is that each child is unique and may react differently from other children” (Sember, p. 9). A child may have certain emotional reactions to separation and divorce, including sadness, embarrassment, concerns about being cared for, regression, maturity, and physical symptoms. It is believed that reactions to a divorce can be similar to the reactions of losing a loved one.
According to Pickhardt, “There is a fear of rejection: ‘If my parents can stop loving each other, can they stop loving me?’ There is fear of the future: ‘What will happen to me now?’ There is fear of abandonment: ‘If my parents can leave each other, they can also leave me.’ ‘In the face of these uncertainties, a child may regress by acting more immature and dependent in order to receive more attention and caretaking support.”
The fighting that occurs between parents can cause children to react negatively and they can begin to show aggression towards others. Children can also begin to act up in class and become defiant towards authority, which usually results in their grades dropping. Often children have difficulties learning to cope with their feelings and feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster (Ford, 2005). They’re also often stuck between a battle zone and as result can suffer psychological problems. Feelings of hopelessness may take over for many kids because they have no control or input to what is going on in their lives (Ford, 2004).
Divorce itself is inevitably an unpleasant situation, but it has been seen that children with siblings tend to cope better than any single child household in most instances, especially in cases where thoughtless parents take the unpleasant route of trying to ‘split up’ the children in an effort to hurt the other party. Effectively, children with siblings develop best with the divorce, single children trailing behind, with split siblings ultimately taking the worst mental beating out of the lot. The reasons for this may not at first be obvious, but let us take a moment to review the family dynamic itself and just what divorce does to the relationship of siblings.
A once intact family is effectively torn in two with the legal action of divorce, children are torn in their views in loving both mother and father, and ultimately they mourn for what is almost literally the death of the family dynamic itself. It is no longer the ‘normal’ life of mother, father, and children, but now a complicated life split between the children and their parents, possibly further complicated by a step family or the constant tension between mother and father.
In this situation a sibling becomes a sort of buffer zone, an emotional barrier between the pain and loss of the divorce and a happy family life. The sibling represents something concrete, a brother or sister that will (or should) remain. An individual who shares in the same pain and can be used as a more than viable coping mechanism, perhaps one of the only truly healthy coping outlets available to a child going through the divorce process.
Starkly in the opposite direction one can see the further damage caused when divorcing parents choose to split their off springs like they have their various possessions. Here, the
child(ren) need not only cope with the loss of mom or dad, but must also wrestle with the torment of being removed from someone who has been a lifelong companion. Instead of being given a viable outlet in the shape of a brother or sister this child(ren) is removed from most everything he or she has known in one solid legal swoop.
Divorce brings about a lot of legal issues, which include child custody, visitation, holiday issues, and child support. There are a few different types of custody arrangements. There is joint custody with visitation, which means that you share custody with the other parent. You are supposed to make all decisions together that may affect the child, and both parents must agree to the visitation schedule. Second, there is sole custody with visitation which is where one parent makes most of the decisions and does not need the other parent’s approval. Lastly, shared custody is where the child’s time is split evenly between both parents. Both parents are responsible for all decisions and neither parent is considered residential. But regardless as to what type of custody agreement is decided, the child(ren) are the one(s) who will be the most affected by this decision.
Once a custody agreement is made then the non-custodial parent is granted visitation. Visitation is important so that the child can spend time equally with both parents. This sometimes requires splitting holidays. Holidays are probably the worst part about visitations because children are use to spending the holidays together as a family, but as children age the visitation schedules change to accommodate both the child and the parents. This is simply because an infant shouldn’t be expected to adhere to the same schedule as an older child. For example, infants may have a harder time adjusting because it is more important for them to stick
to a schedule; frequent and short visits from the other parent is best. Also, sticking to feeding and nap times is important, otherwise, the baby can be extremely cranky. Toddlers have difficulty with separation anxiety from either parent. Transitions should be made gradually as toddlers often display aggression by biting or hitting. Preschool aged children begin to realize that their parents don’t live together anymore and start to ask questions and they can also begin another type of visitation schedule, such as weekend visits. Elementary aged children need more time for homework after school and it is important for both parents to help the child stay organized so that they are able to turn in their assignments on time to their teacher. Children from 8-12 are considered “tweens” and may start to take sides or try to act perfect in hopes that their parents will get back together. It is ok to let them know that nobody is perfect and that nothing can bring you and the other parent back together. You child will have more homework and more friends so it is important to fit this into the schedule as it continues to change through that child’s life. Teenagers may experience the worst symptoms from the divorce. They often discredit marriage and refuse to get close to another person in that way or they blame themselves for the separation. In some cases they feel that they had to grow up quickly because they felt the need to assume the role of the other parent. It may also be difficult for teens to stick to a schedule because friends are more important now and they may also have jobs of their own that they are scheduled for. Dating also begins to become a factor in the scheduling conflict. The teen should be able to go out on dates as long as both parents agree, but there also needs to be a restriction on the number of outings so that both parents are able to spend the appropriate amount of time with their son/daughter. You shouldn’t expect this to go perfectly, but do offer the teen to give their input on the situation and try to all come to a compromise.
Most days you experience with your child may be good days, so you should enjoy these days while they last because there may come a time when something happens and your child tells you that they hate you and would rather live with the other parent. This is just another part of trying to adjust. If most times are bad then it may be time to readjust your position. You may need to try to change some things including the visitation schedule.
Divorce not only affects the child(ren) emotionally but it also plays a major role in many other aspects of their lives. Two of the strongest and most widely held beliefs about the family life today are that marriage should be a lifelong commitment and that parental divorce has serious negative effects on children. These convictions are held with such value that many people are alarmed by the high divorce rate in the United States. The divorce rate is very high in the United States, where about 50% of all first marriages formed in the early 1990s ended in divorce (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1998). According to the Heritage Foundation, “Each year, over 1 million American children suffer the divorce of their parents and most children will see their parents’ divorce before they turn 18 (Fagan and Rector, 2000). What are the major impacts being seen in these children? What are the effects on these children?
One area where divorce has a major impact on children is in their academic progress. In 2002, USA Today did a study that used a government-sponsored database that examined 10,000 adolescents (Crouch. 2002). This study found that the psychological damage to the child builds before the divorce but dissipated afterwards, but academic progress continues to weaken. It speculates that these children fall behind academically and then are not able to catch up once this happens. They lose self-esteem and motivation. There have been many studies done and the conclusion is the same. One study found that students from intact families outperform those students from divorced families and have higher grade point averages. Another one found that teens from single-parent homes are twice as likely to drop out of high school. I found it interesting that one study found that parental divorce affected female high school students more that it affected male high school students.
A second area where divorce has a major impact on children is their housing arrangement. The level of home ownership among people who have divorced is much lower than those who have married and never divorced. According to the Census Brief published by the U.S. Department of Commerce in September of 1997, more than a quarter of America’s children now live with one parent. They did a study with divorced and never-married mothers and found that divorced parents are more educated and less likely to live in rental homes, and are less likely to be poor in comparison to the never-married mothers. It appears from this study that being a single parent divorcee has a slight advantage over a never-married mother. This study also showed that four million children live in the homes of their grandparents.
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The third area where divorce has a major impact on children is the income level of the custodial parent. Following divorce, custodial parents, mostly mothers, generally have less income than most two-parent families. One of the ways that lower income may impact children is through disruptions that may result from less money. Many divorced families change residence, which may result in changing schools, childcare, friends, and other supportive relationships. In short, less money due to these disruptions may lead to more problems for children because of the stress that change creates.
The fourth area where divorce has a major impact on children is the economic losses that it creates. Studies have shown that custodial mothers often face dramatic economic losses following divorce, leading to feelings of stress that adversely affects parenting. Researchers believe that divorce is disruptive for children largely because the custodial parent faces a significant amount of economic stress in the time period immediately following the divorce (Furstenberg 1990). These economic losses may produce major transition periods for the child like moving, changing schools or living with other household members, which can adversely affects the child’s well being.
It is important to remember that not all of the effects mentioned in the studies above will be experienced by all children of divorce and those problems that do emerge can be made less intense with further education, nurturing, good communication, and lots of love.
Divorce not only affects the child(ren) emotionally but it takes a toll on the parent- child relationship. In the wake of a divorce, most custodial parents expresses differing degrees of anger, disorder, decreased expectations from their child(ren), and a decline in the aptitude to separate the child(ren)’s needs and actions from those of the adults involved. Studies have shown that approximately 15% of children interviewed at the 10 year follow-up point in a 15 year study showed significant effects from taking on the role of holding a custodial parent together psychologically (Eloeff, 2008).
Children dealing with divorce are often left with a lot of questions because they are going through something they have never experienced before. It is important to answer every question that might arise in order for the child to better understand what is going on. Change is hard and the fear of the unknown can be difficult for children to handle on their own. Both parents need to try to make this new adjustment period as comfortable for the children as possible (Schor, 2004). Everyone’s life is impacted by divorce and children often have a hard time adjusting to change. “For all too many kids, nonresidential parents eventually will come to play a greatly diminished role in their lives. It doesn’t have to be this way, and with sensitivity, planning, and common sense, parents can sidestep many common visitation problems” (Neuman, p.272). So therefore, it is up to the parents to help their child(ren) to cope with the divorce and try to prevent this from happening. There are two general channels that can be taken to help the child(ren) deal with the divorce experience. They are parental effort and outside help.
During parental effort, it is important to communicate with your child(ren) that you love them and that you don’t hate them even if you don’t normally do those things, but it is important for your child(ren) to feel reassured. Avoid talking to your child(ren) about the divorce situation or any financial woes that you may be experiencing. It is best for your child(ren) to continue to be neutral to both parents. You should also not use your child(ren) as a messenger to see what the other parent is up to. This can make your child feel stressed and feel like they are betraying their other parent. Also, don’t make promises you can’t keep. It only disappoints them and causes them not to trust you. Children need to be reassured; just because the marriage is over doesn’t mean that they aren’t a family anymore. “Children must be told and told again: ‘Divorce means your parents have lost love for each other and do not want to live together anymore. However, divorce in no way changes our love for you” (Pickhardt, p. 84). Both parents need to try to avoid bad mouthing the other parent in front of the child(ren). This may prevent the child from feeling stressed out about double loyalties. You need to keep a sense of normalcy for your child so that they can feel that their lives have some stability after such a drastic change in their living situations. “One of the best ways to help a child feel rooted, protected, and loved, is to have rules” (Pickhardt, p. 25). It is important to create the rules together so that the child has the same boundaries at either home and that the other parent doesn’t appear to be better because the child has no responsibilities when they stay with them. The parents should keep the lines of communication open with their child(ren) and never stop attempting to make contact with their child(ren). They should also maintain an interest in what is going on with the child(ren); know who they’re hanging out with and how they’re doing in school and extracurricular activities. Most children want to make both parents happy, and it is up to the parents to make this an easy task.
As for the outside help avenue, this is a route to take when the parental effort is not helping. Counseling and/or an intervention program can help improve matters by being a neutral third party. They help in accomplishing things like, helping children to express their anger, as well as helping the parents to better understand how to appropriately respond to the concern’s that the child(ren) may have. Parents should consider seeking professional help when their child is having problems accepting reality about the divorce or seem to be going through some serious behavioral changes. Meeting with a psychiatrist or a counselor who specializes in divorce can be very beneficial for everyone involved. It doesn’t matter which route is used to help them get through the divorce process as long as the child(ren)’s best interest is kept as the top priority during and after the divorce.
All in all, children can be severely traumatized by divorce. Many of the effects felt can be long lasting or some may go away within a few weeks. If the divorce is nasty or is prolonged due to a custody battle, then the effects can last a lifetime. Children face many issues when going through a divorce. There are issues with self-esteem, loss of sense of security, the “sleeper effect”, and it even has an effect on birthdays and holidays. These problems can last forever in a child, even into adulthood.
When children have to go through a divorce, they deal with issues regarding their self-esteem. They may feel like they caused the divorce themselves. The child(ren) may also feel like they did something wrong to where mommy or daddy doesn’t want to be with them anymore. If these issues are not addressed early on, they can be long lasting and when developing, the older child will have low self-esteem. This can lead to poor grades in school, little to no friends, using drugs, and trouble in the streets.
Another issue children deal with when going through a divorce is in the area of security. The child(ren) may develop fears that both parents will abandon him or her. There may also be fears about what is to come. What will happen from here? Where does the child(ren) end up? These are thoughts about security that may come during a divorce. In addition, the absence of one of their parents can make the child(ren) feel extremely lonely. This can also last a lifetime if not dealt with early on. It can lead to the child(ren) growing up feeling scared and worried. He or she may have relationship problems and may not be able to trust anyone and can also lead to depression.
Some studies suggest that there is a “sleeper effect”. This is the idea that a child that goes through a divorce and recovers rather quickly. Then, because of denied feelings at the subconscious level, they will have a resurgence of fear, anger, guilt, and anxiety which doesn’t kick in until well into adulthood. These feelings tend to arise when a young adult is attempting to make important life decisions, such as marriage.
Another effect divorce has on children is dealing with holidays and birthdays. This will last a lifetime, because birthdays and holidays will have to be split, if this is the agreement. If there is time-sharing in place, or an agreement has been made, the child may have to spend every other birthday with the mother and father. With holidays, there may be time-sharing involved, where the child spends half the holidays with the father, and the other half with the mother. This can certainly last into adulthood, because the family will not be together, and there may have to be time split between the two parents’ homes.
Some children are affected more by divorce than others. However, all children will be affected by a divorce no matter what. The things that parents do and don’t do will greatly impact exactly how much a child is affected by the divorce. In addition, the child’s gender, age, psychological health, and maturity will also all affect how a divorce impacts a child. Dealing with the divorce as best as possible will help lessen the effects on a child and make it easier to get through. Only time will tell how much it has actually affected the particular child in a particular circumstance.
Of course, as we all know, divorce is a painful process for everyone involved; the legal act of breaking apart a family is taxing on both the heart and mind, but we see this most in children. Divorce rates are high and our children are suffering. Everyone should take their children’s feelings into consideration when going through a divorce because the child’s life is impacted as well. It is very important that parents help their children adjust to all the changes going on in their life and address any behavioral or psychological problems the moment they arise.
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