Most people with divorce questions, seeking divorce counseling, are particularly preoccupied with the effects of divorce on kids (if they have them). Understandably, this is so because kids are the unwitting pawns of parental discord, with little if any, power or control over the outcome.
In general, the major effects of divorce on kids, depends on the developmental stage of the child, in combination with the quality of the parental relationship and a variety of other mitigating factors. It isn’t a simple equation, though, because the context of that developmental stage has a tremendous impact.
These various contexts include the pre-divorce stability of the family and general health-well being. In addition, the presence of other supportive adults such as aunts/uncles, teachers, and parents of friends, can help to buffer the sense of disconnection, and feelings of being misunderstood and abandoned.
Whereas many children are resilient and flexible, there is a common misconception that kids will adjust over time. Many do, but many don’t and the latter is due to some of these mitigating factors not being present. The quality of attachment between parent and child, along with the degree of hostility between the parents, can have enormous consequences for children and divorce. Many of the so-called “attachment disorders” result from the perceived break in basic trust and constancy of security with the parents.
Other common effects of divorce on kids are increased depression, anxiety and regression to younger ways of being and acting. Unlike adults, in children these conditions can be manifested differently—often behaviorally, and can sometimes be overlooked or misunderstood. Parents should look for the following warning signs: changes in sleep, appetite, and outbursts of rage or violence. Obviously, substance abuse, suicidality and self-harm are extremely serious and require immediate professional attention. Regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting, resorting to comfort objects, clinginess and school avoidance are not just “stages” and need evaluation. One particular sign is more often missed than other effects of divorce on kids. This involves a role reversal in the form of taking care of the hurt and disturbed parent. This is usually due to a deepened fear of increased loss by the child.
All in all, children need to be a high priority in determining the best life after divorce for everyone in the family.