For a married couple with children, the impact of the divorce on children should be one of the biggest concerns when the question of a divorce is raised. Research shows that a child’s reaction to divorce is greatly shaped by a number of factors, including age, gender, family support, and the quality of the relationship between the parents prior to the divorce.
There is an age factor when it comes to children and divorce. Dealing with divorce is very different for young children versus adolescents.
Adolescents are more likely to respond to a divorce by striving for independence, and this can lead to problem behaviors with some adolescents. Additionally, many adolescents develop trust issues with one or both parents. Pre-adolescent and younger children tend to become more dependent on caregivers, which can be problematic in some custody situations. Younger children are also less likely to have realistic expectations, and many young children cling to a desire for the divorced parents to reunite.
Some researchers speculate that gender is a factor for children and divorce. Dealing with divorce often leaves children with one parent for a significant period of time. Children who spend a significant amount of time with the same-sex parent tend to have better emotional outcomes. However, it is important to note that the quality of the parent-child relationship is more important than the parent’s sex.
Support from family, friends, and the community can play a huge role in the impact of divorce on children. Children with a dependable non-parental support system tend to respond to the divorce with less anxiety and anger than children without a strong support system. This is especially true for young children. When children experience the emotional roller coaster that often accompanies a divorce, it helps to have a trusted adult nearby.
Parental conflict plays a tremendous role in the impact of divorce on children. In marriages that are filled with conflict and aggression, children of all ages actually tend to respond positively to divorce. In marriages with a low level of open conflict, children tend to have more trouble adapting to the divorce. Custody arrangements are very important in either situation.
Children are surprisingly resilient, but the importance of support and stability cannot be underestimated when parents are going through a divorce. With love and support, children can and will adjust to life after the divorce.