What Divorce Does to Children

Normal Themes in Divorce
  • anger
  • rage
  • upset
  • distress
  • loyalty binds
  • children and parents manipulate each other

Children see divorce as a threat to their security. They feel:

  • fear of being abandoned
  • confused about who to love
  • they caused the conflict between their Mom and Dad
  • responsible for bringing their parents back together
  • persistent stress
  • loss of motivation for school
  • loss of motivation for making friends
  • loss of motivation for having fun
  • unusually rebellious
  • unusually argumentative
  • too tired
  • too restless

Divorce Requires the Family to

  • restructure its system
  • set new rules that ensure support and caring
  • set new boundaries

Research shows that children suffer when their fathers are absent from their lives.

Boys often experience the following:

  • lower self esteem
  • rejection by their peers
  • adverse focus in decision-making

Girls show negative effects

  • in social development
  • self-image - not pretty enough
  • self-concept - not affectionate enough
  • in decision-making skills
  • self-concept - not smart enough

When children see high conflict in their parents' divorce, they

  • experience greater difficulty in sorting out their feelings
  • feel "caught" between the parents
  • experience deep depression
  • experience high anxiety
  • take part in deviant behavior
  • feel guilty, angry and alone

Understand this: children can sense the vibrations of the anger even when the parents pretend everything is okay while with them.

Divorce is harder on children when a parent

  • is required to have no contact with the family
  • is prohibited from making temporary arrangements that include the children
  • is prohibited from setting a temporary separation

A parent who tries to alienate the child from the other parent commits a form of emotional abuse. This form of emotional abuse programs the child for these conditions:

  • lifelong alienation from a loving parent
  • lifelong psychiatric disturbance
  • to become enmeshed with the alienating parent
  • to take on the alienating parent's hatreds, emotions and desires
  • to be unable to distinguish his own feelings from that of the alienating parent

A child who is fully alienated from one parent by the other

  • does not wish to have contact with the alienated parent
  • expresses only negative feelings for the alienated parent
  • expresses only positive feelings for the alienating parent
  • loses the range of feelings for both parents that most children have

To deprive a child of a healthy relationship with one parent is

  • is psychologically harmful to the child
  • endangers the mental health of the parents
  • threatens the child's psychological development
  • causes the child to believe he/she must choose which of the two parents he/she will love more.

The harm on the child is the same regardless of why a parent may choose to exclude the other parent from the child's life.

To have to choose between parents to exclude one parent from the child's life creates injury that cannot be repaired.

Every effort must be made to insure the emotion bond of the child with both parents.

For balanced development the child needs contact with adults of both genders.

Unless abuse is involved, there is no good reason to keep a child away from either parent. The child needs to spend significant and quality time with each parent.

Even when abuse has occurred, a child loves that parent. To assure that the child is safe during contacts with the parent who abused, the following need to work together:

  • parents
  • courts
  • professionals

A separating family needs to make its own changes as they restructure their family system. They must

  • decide the roles and the rules themselves
  • set the new boundaries without others telling them what or how to do it.

The family itself must do the personal work to adjust to changes brought on by the divorce.

When professionals and others are too closely involved in the decision-making, this

  • keeps family members from learning what they need to learn.
  • causes the divorce process to get stuck and
  • keeps family members from accomplishing the tasks that enable them to support and care for each other.

When is intervention too much?

Intervention, if absolutely necessary, can be used to

  • point out problems that family members overlooked.
  • ask questions so family members can see those issues.
  • point out "normal" themes.
  • point out "damaging" themes.

Any more than this interferes with their progress.

If professionals or others insist on being intimately involved in the divorce process, they become part of the family system. This is called a divorce impasse system.

  • Family members rely on the professionals or others instead of themselves to make the important decisions.
  • Family members and professionals align against other members of the family system to create loyalty binds.
  • All members of the divorce impasse system are affected by the loyalty struggles and may become polarized.

For each problem discussed here, remedies exist to help parents and children adjust to the changes. The thing is to get through the pain of the divorce and move on with their lives. Our workbooks for Moms and for Dads

  • ask the important questions that point to problems

  • leave it up to parents to decide what to do

  • point out self-defeating reactions

  • give ways to spot problems and solutions

  • give ways to get past the pain

  • show ways to create resolution dramas

As with our workbooks for children and for teenagers, Love Energy and Light are the prevailing resources we apply.

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