Divorce is traumatic for children of all ages as they experience it as abandonment or rejection. Children interpret it as abandonment because they think that one of their parents will abandon them forever and as rejection because they think that they have done something wrong and are responsible for their parent’s divorce. The way children will experience divorce depends on the quality of the family relationships. More specifically, if the parents jointly decided to divorce and explained to the children that it is better for all to live separately, that they will always love them and that they aren’t responsible for it then the children will adapt better to the new situation. But if the children witnessed scenes of hostility and violence before the divorce, this means that the children were maltreated. Of course, after divorce these children are the scapegoats of their parents, who use them. In general divorce is preferable when the family environment is unstable, insecure and unhealthy.
We should mention that most of the children don’t want their parents to be separated and feel anger because they think that their parents don’t consider their own needs. The divorce of their parents is related to the dismantling of the social relations where they acquire the impression that relationships are transient.
Let’s talk about the reactions of children in accordance with their age so that we understand the impact of divorce at every developmental phase. Preschoolers feel sad, demand things, show anxiety when their parents leave home or leave them alone at school. They also have sleep disturbances like nightmares and fear of the dark. These children become more aggressive toward other children. These reactions show fear of abandonment.
Older children express anger to the parent they live with, whom they consider responsible for the divorce. They even experience feelings of sadness. When children reach the pre-adolescense stage they try to cover their grief by focusing on the game. They usually don’t want to talk about their feelings and will take the side of one of the two parents. In adolescence they will show symptoms of depression, move away from the family environment, focus on friendly relations.
Parents can help children adjust more smoothly to the new situation by avoiding conflicts as they are destructive for them. It is also very important to discuss with their children about the divorce showing understanding for their feelings like sadness, anger, guilt. They give them the opportunity to express their feelings and process them. Also, the satisfactory resolution of legal issues like custody is important so that they are able to communicate adequately with both parents. Moreover, the presence of grandmothers and grandfathers is invaluable as they show affection to their grandchildren. What needs to be emphasized is the preservation of their daily routine so that they feel stable. Additionally parents should not blame each other in front of their children but they should show respect in order not to lead them to emotional dilemmas. They must cooperate so that they raise their children properly. Another important factor that can affect the quality of life of the children is the economic situation of the parent who takes custody because some mothers have limited financial resources which means that they have to work several hours and don’t have the chance to protect and guide their children. In these cases the presence and active participation of grandparents, other relatives and friends is necessary in order children to be supported.
At this point I would like to mention some research data of the Midtown Manhattan study.The study demonstrates that children who grew up with separated parents were more likely to experience psychological problems than children who grew up in families with the presence of both parents. There is a very interesting finding that children of divorced parents develop better in life than children of families where both parents are together and quarrel all the time. On the other hand, children of divorced parents show high crime rates when parental relationships are deteriorated. For this reason attention should be payed to the satisfaction of their emotional needs so that crime rates reduce.
Finally what we need to bear in mind is that the effects of divorce on children can be reduced when the child has a balanced personality, a strong parent with fortitude, caring grandparents, good relationship with the parent who leaves home, the opportunity to express his feeings without oppressing them.