A divorce is painful, regardless of your specific circumstances. It's therefore particularly important to understand its effects on children.
If you're facing a divorce, you might be feeling all over the place right now. So, if you have kids, I want to help you as much as I can to understand how to make the process as painless as possible for them.
In making the decision to split as parents you really do need to consider how divorce can affect your children. Whilst adults may recover and move on to a new relationship, the effects of divorce on children can be more long term.
(Do also look at: Children in the Middle)
I'm hoping to help you get a better insight into what your children may feel and how they may react to your divorce (or separation if you are cohabiting).
Whatever your children's age - because even adult children are affected - the impact of a divorce can be one of the most life-changing and distressing things that will happen to a child. However, the impact does depend to some extent on how you and your partner handle it. You can minimise their distress, and I'm here to show you how.
First of all though - if you're at all unsure about ending your relationship or marriage, then please do have a look at my End Relationship Test. This can help you make the right decision - whatever that may be for you.
The effects of divorce on your children can vary hugely. So, here's what I hope you'll consider:
There's another important list of factors further down the page to help you consider divorce and its effects on children.
It's imperative for you as a parent to consider how divorce affects your children. So, keeping your children's best interests in the forefront of you mind is likely to make the process more manageable for them. Ultimately seeing your children cope will make it that much easier for you too.
Your separation and divorce require you to constantly think: "divorce and the children". You shouldn't ever see it as just an issue for yourself.
However, you do need to take care of yourself. When you are coping reasonably well you're more likely to have the energy to make sure that you stay aware of the impact of your divorce and its effect on your children.
If there's still a chance that you can sort out your marital problems, then I'd love you to take action right now. Don't leave it to chance - fight for it. You may already be aware that second marriages have a 75% chance of ending in divorce.
So, it's worth investing a lot of energy into making sure that you've done all you possibly can to make the marriage work. Even if your partner is less inclined to put in the effort and you feel like you're doing all the work. Have a look at How to Save Your Marriage by Lee Baucom, PhD.
If by any chance your partner has just left you and that's why you're on this page, then you need to take action now. And if you think there's a chance that your partner is about to leave, you need to be prepared. Hop over to another page of mine to discover What You Need to Know in Advance of Your Partner Leaving.
Divorce affects children in each age group in a different way. However, there are many factors that determine how your child's going to deal with your particular situation.
For example when considering divorce and children, the following factors all play a role:
For smaller children the loss of consistency and constant change that divorce brings can be very unsettling.
When we're talking about children and divorce, it's particularly important to note that arrangements you make for their care must be 'set in stone'. If arrangements become inconsistent, dysfunctional, 'punishing' and irregular this has a hugely detrimental effect.
It's so important to ensure their needs never come last. Of course the risk of a negative effect of divorce or separation on your children is going to be much higher under these circumstances.
It can be just as upsetting for teenagers with a greater understanding of feelings and relationships. Teenagers can have very definite views of 'who is to blame' and they, like the younger ones, may feel that they themselves are in some way to blame.
Unfortunately it's a fact of life that parental break-ups are common. Most children will be aware of others who are part of a multi-layered or 'blended' family. They may have had several step-fathers or mothers, as well as a number of step-sisters, step-brothers, half-sisters and half-brothers.
The more complex the family situation, the more there is a need to handle your divorce and your children's needs by having a carefully considered parenting plan.
Like the adults in the relationship the child (of whatever age) is likely to go through various stages of 'grieving' when they learn about the divorce. They're effectively mourning the loss of the family life they've always known and the reassuring presence of two parents (if indeed that presence was safe and reassuring!).
You can soothe them with lots of love, reassurance and a wonderful natural remedy: MindSoothe Jr. for Child and Teen Depression.
It's quite common for children to be in denial. Hence the effects of divorce on your children may seem to be minimal.
This denial is your child's coping strategy. If he or she thinks it is not happening then, in their mind, it won't happen.
Your child may harbour the notion that the two of you will somehow reunite and all will be well. Indeed this does often happen - many a lawyer will vouch for that.
If this isn't a possibility, it's really important to make sure that your kids fully understand the nature of your situation and that you really are going to separate or divorce.
How do you tell your children that you're going to divorce?
For you to even be thinking about divorce and its effects on your children is likely to be painful. Having to tell your children that you're going to divorce will be one of the most difficult conversations you'll ever have with them.
Ideally it should be done by the two of you together. However, this clearly isn't always possible, or even desirable.
Your task is to help them cope with the changing circumstances. You'll find more information on how to minimise the effects of divorce on children on my page: Children in the Middle.
Once the reality of the situation takes hold your children may well experience mood swings. Angry outbursts and changes in eating habits are common. The anger may be directed at whichever parent they feel is responsible, or even at themselves if they feel they are to blame.
Constant observation and communication is essential. Your children are very vulnerable during this stage. Fear is one of the key effects of divorce on children - essentially a fear of the unknown:
Younger children may not comprehend the magnitude of what's happening and teenagers are very sensitive to what their peers might think.
It's important to treat these fears with respect as they are very real to your child. Address them as best and as honestly as you can. I know it can be really difficult for you as the parent to hold it together... especially when you may well be sharing some of the same emotions!
However, constantly reassuring your child of the love of both of you will enable them to see that there are things that are constant and remain strong.
Most importantly the divorce effects on children will be heightened if the child is asked to make choices between parents. Or if they're used as a weapon or bargaining tool in the divorce process.
Help in dealing with the home situation, when considering divorce and children, can be found in many places. These include social care courses (see links), and specifically on my page Children in the Middle.
Remember - for all concerned - do consider giving it your all to try and rescue your marriage.
CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
Wiley Online Library - The long-term effects of parental divorce on the mental health of young adults
Huffington Post - Divorce research - top findings of 2010
Home learning social care courses