Spoiler alert: according to award-winning, research-based article “Is Divorce Bad for Children” published in Scientific American:
“Divorce affects most children in the short run, but research suggests that kids recover rapidly after the initial blow.”
If you’ve been limping along for years doing life with a partner who just isn’t there for you or feels like you’re living with a roommate, divorce has probably crossed your mind.
If your partner cheated and you just don’t know if you can trust them again, divorce has probably crossed your mind.
If you’ve tried marriage counseling, one of those couples weekends or romantic dinners and date nights hoping things would magically get better but nothing is changing, divorce has probably crossed your mind.
You’re both suffering and yet you hang on hurting each other because you think divorce will be too hard on the children. As a personal divorce coach, the most common reason I hear for miserable couples sticking it out is that “it’s best for the kids.”
But is that the truth?
Is staying in an empty, unhealthy, or toxic environment better for children than divorce in the long run?
The truth is that parents have a ton of influence over how well their children cope during and after divorce. Research shows that protecting kids from parental conflict and having a supportive adult in their lives gives children the best chance of continuing to develop without problems.
So, what does research tell us about what really impacts the well-being of kids?
A 1985 study by Hetherington and her associates found that children who are exposed to high levels of conflict prior to divorce adjust better and may actually experience the divorce as a welcome relief from their parents’ fighting.
Once the decision to divorce is made, it’s best for both parents to talk with the children and be honest about what is happening. Avoid giving them hope of reconciliation if it’s not an option. Studies show that parents can best support children by discussing the divorce in an age-appropriate manner and answering their questions. Younger children need to be assured that they are still loved and that they are not responsible. Older children may be more interested in living arrangements and schedule details.
Conflict between parents is one of the strongest predictors of adjustment problems in children following divorce. The most important thing you can do to help your child cope with the divorce is to keep them from witnessing or being in the middle of conflict. Work with the other parent to ensure that difficult conversations, phone calls, etc., happen when the children are not around.
Self-care is job #1 during this time. If you’re frazzled, stressed out and running on empty it will be difficult to take the high road. You’ll be more likely to make choices that feel good in the moment but may not be best for your children in the long run.
The best outcomes happen when parents can put their children at the center (not in the middle) of the divorce. Meaning they make all their decisions based on what is best for the children, not what is best for themselves.
For example, rather than fighting for sole custody to punish your partner for having an affair, consider that your children love their other parent and depriving them of that support or bad mouthing them is hurting your child’s heart.
Results of a 10-year study clearly indicated that a successfully re-established family or a successful remarriage can improve the quality of life for both parents and children. The divorce may resolve the family conflict and allow the children to preserve a relationship with both parents.
It will take time to transition from communicating as a married couple to a more business-type relationship. Try to agree early on about how you prefer to communicate (text, email, in person) and refrain from sending messages with the children.
Putting the kids at the center may mean agreeing to switch up parenting days or biting your tongue more often than you would like to. One of the hardest decisions you might have to make is choosing to love your kids more than you hate your ex.
The importance of taking care of yourself continues after divorce. Studies show that children who live in the custody of at least one well-functioning parent do better than those whose primary parent is doing poorly. If you’re struggling, get the help you need to be the best parent you can be.
Good parenting is the strongest buffer against divorce-related difficulties for your children. Nurturing, emotional support, involvement and consistent discipline are the keys to helping your children thrive after the break-up.
And finally, economic stability and social support are important factors, so make smart financial decisions, live within your means, and set your children up for success with friends, teachers, family members, and mentors.
The Bottom Line
Happy Parents = Happy Kids
Is getting divorced going to mess up your kids? Probably not. But it’s up to you and how you handle it that makes the most impact.
- Research indicates that although divorce does disrupt children for a short time, the majority adjust well over the longer term
- Children in high conflict situations feel relief when their parents split up
- Modeling dysfunction to your children teaches them the wrong things about how they should expect to act and be treated in a relationship
- Doing your own work to learn and grow from the experience of divorce is a gift to your children they can take into their own future relationships
- Divorce offers you the opportunity to teach your children resilience, boundaries, communication skills, and other important life lessons
Divorce is never the easy decision, but sometimes it is the right decision. Right for your family and right for you as an individual. And done the right way, your children can continue to thrive.
It’s not whether you divorce, it’s how you divorce that matters in the long run.
Written by: Debra Doak, CDC, CDFA
Debra Doak is a CDC Certified Divorce CoachⓇ and Certified Divorce Financial AnalystⓇ who helps clients make hard decisions and navigate divorce with confidence and clarity. After experiencing her own contentious divorce, she combined her background in financial analysis and communications to take the fear and loneliness out of divorce for her clients. Learn more and schedule a complimentary consultation at www.debradoak.com.