When you took your marriage vows, you didn’t imagine being in a position where you need a divorce. While no one expects that on their wedding day, it’s common knowledge that approximately 50 percent of American marriages will eventually end in a divorce. In addition to feeling hurt, angry, and disappointed, many people feel guilty, particularly when children are involved. This does no one any good and it ignores the fact that in many cases, a divorce can be better for kids than a tense, angry marriage. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to kids, parents, and divorce.
Kids Pick Up on Parental Stress and Anger
If you are constantly being disappointed or angered by your spouse, don’t kid yourself into thinking that your children aren’t aware of it. Even babies will often cry and feel stress when their parents argue. Some parents think they’re keeping their arguments a secret from the kids, but they can still pick up on your silence, your curt or short responses, or your sarcasm after a fight. Sometimes you need a divorce and your children will be better off for it.
Stress in children can cause anxiety, depression, and other issues. This is true whether you have toddlers, teenagers, or a child in between these ages. If you are having marital difficulties, it’s important to watch for signs of stress in your children so you can get them the counseling or help that they need. These signs include:
- Changes in eating habits; eating more than usual or less than usual over a prolonged period of time (not associated with an illness or a growth spurt, for example).
- Sleep disturbances: Having trouble sleeping, having nightmares, or sleeping too much.
- Regression when it comes to toilet training or bedwetting in young children.
- Poor school performance that is not usual for the child.
- Physical signs of stress, like stomach aches, digestive difficulties, headaches, or muscle aches that can’t be explained by a medical or physical cause.
- Anger and irritation that is uncharacteristic.
- Isolating him- or herself in their bedroom, refusing to go out with friends.
- Trying to get out of going to school.
- Crying, hopelessness, or other symptoms of depression.
Abuse and Neglect Are Red Flags That Point to Divorce Being Necessary
If there is physical violence or emotional abuse in your marriage, then more harm than good can come of trying to stay together for the children and you need a divorce. Keep in mind that children emulate their parents. A child or teen who sees one parent abusing or belittling the other could very easily go on to do the same in his or her future relationships. A child who sees his or her parent of the same sex being abused might be more likely to go on to become a victim of abuse him- or herself.
Also, when parents are trying hard to make a failing marriage work out, the children’s needs might fall by the wayside. The parents might unintentionally emotionally (or, in some cases, physically) neglect the children because they are focusing on their own big issues. A divorce will give both adults the room they require to take care of not only their own needs but their children’s as well.
When You Need a Divorce It’s a Fresh Start
If the marital home is filled with tension, fighting, or angry silence, you may need a divorce or separation that can be a welcome breath of fresh air. Instead of having one home where children feel ill at ease, they will now have two homes that are run by a happy parent. This can, of course, be difficult for kids in the beginning, but in time, they will settle into the routine of spending days and nights with one parent at a time. In fact, the vast majority of kids who have been through divorce say that when the parents need a divorce, it is better than staying together for the children when there is a lot of strife and unhappiness.
Divorce Gives Kids the Chance to See Their Parents Compromise
Ideally, parents will work together to create a parenting plan. Elementary school-aged and older children will notice that their parents are compromising on a variety of issues, from who lives in the marital home to who has the children for which holidays. This can be a relief for children who have been used to seeing their parents argue, fight, or not communicate at all. Even if you have to go to mediation several times, it’s good for the kids to see that you are trying to compromise and come to an agreement, even if you need a divorce at the end of the day.
Divorce Allows Kids to See Their Parents Happy
The importance of children seeing that their parents are doing something hard to pursue their own happiness is sometimes understated. They probably will not like it that you need a divorce and it might take them a while to get used to the new normal, but once it’s said and done, they’ll be able to look back and see that you and your spouse made this choice in order to be happy.
This can help your kids to make choices, even difficult, stressful and scary ones, that will allow them to be happy as adults. It shows them that no one has to stick with a situation that has become unbearable. Children will also see their parents’ individual strengths as they go through the ordeal of divorce.
Tips on Making Divorce Easier for Kids
Of course, it’s best to make your divorce as non-traumatic as possible on your kids. A few pointers to keep in mind are:
- Let your kids express themselves. Tell them that feelings are not good or bad; they are what they are. Encourage your kids to talk to you about their anger, sadness, and disappointment.
- Don’t badmouth your ex. Not only does it alienate your kids but it can also negatively impact your custody rights. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
- Keep the dirty details private. You don’t need to go into all of the reasons for the divorce. Stick to age-appropriate information and don’t lean on kids of any age (even teenagers) for adult support or advice.
- Seek counseling for your child if you notice regression, a lot of frustration and anger, poor school performance, or the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Children of divorcing parents often need some support and guidance to get through it. A mental health diagnosis by a professional can be very empowering and give you the tools to help your children overcome any negative emotional that arise from these matters.
As you go through your divorce, don’t hesitate to seek counseling and legal support for yourself. The breakup of a marriage is stressful and scary, and you don’t have to go through it alone. Contact National Family Solutions to learn about what to do when you need a divorce without putting yourself or your family in financial peril.