Although there are a few exceptions, divorce often causes major disruptions to the family unit. Naturally, this instability can be frightening to everyone involved—especially to the children of divorcing parents. And, unfortunately, this instability can have long-term effects as well.
Even though parents may think they are hiding their insecurities of what the future may hold, and their anger toward their spouse, they convey messages to their children they may not intend.
Indeed, parents may not realize that their once commendable behavior, now battered by their irritability from lack of sleep, constant marital conflict, and anxiety about their future, is marked by impatience, inapproachability, or even emotional withdrawal from their children.
Research studies have suggested that providing as much parental harmony – even during and after the divorce is critical to the healthy development of our children’s relationships not only in the near future, but also far beyond it to adulthood.
Indeed, the long-term consequences of parental discord affect children pervasively and consistently in a detrimental fashion, according the data provided by researchers Paul Amato and Alan Booth.
They found that children from families with a high degree of discord before and after their divorces tended to have more difficulties in dating -- and less happiness, less interaction, and more conflict in marriage. Not surprisingly, the probability of divorce is higher among children whose parents experienced a high degree of disharmony in marriage and subsequently.
While divorce cannot always be avoided, bad conduct during and after divorce can be. Open, honest, civil communication with your ex-spouse, or soon to be ex-spouse, and your children, is best for every one. Here are some tips for parents who are currently in the midst of a divorce, or have already divorced:
- Tell each child individually that he or she is not the cause of the divorce and will always be loved by both parents.
- Be supportive and positive about the child's relationship with the other parent.
- Always let the child know when he or she will see the absent parent.
- Continue reassuring the children that they can still count on both parents.
- Deal directly with the other parent. (Don’t use the children to make or change plans.)
- Be careful when discussing your case with your attorney (or friends) on the phone. Children hear more than we think.
- Behave reasonably and rationally so your children know you have made the decision to end your marriage in a careful and thoughtful way.
- Establish a home for the children with a place for their belongings (each child should be given at least one drawer in the visiting parent's home for toys, artwork, pajamas, etc. with absolute privacy being guaranteed to the child with respect to this special drawer.)
- Be prompt for pickup and drop-off.
- Maintain regular telephone contact with the children.
- Have children ready in time for visitation and be home, or at the visitation exchange on time to receive the children.
- Argue in front of the children.
- Speak derogatorily about the other parent.
- Cancel plans with the children.
- Pump the children for information about the other parent.
- Use the children to carry angry messages back and forth.
- Use the children to deliver support payments or bills.
- Ask children with whom they want to live.
- Ask a child to keep a secret from the other parent.
- Appear sad when your child leaves to see the other parent.
- Change residences more often than is absolutely necessary.
- Believe everything the children say about the other parent.
- Introduce your children to your new romantic interest until the children have adjusted to your separation and your new relationship is stable.
- Bring your children to court or to your lawyer's office.
As loving parents we make an emotional pact with our spouse when our children are born, to pour our lives and all happiness into them – protecting them from hurt and suffering.
Somehow, when our marriage disintegrates we forget our promise to each other. And, as the research suggests, psychological harm affects our children long into their adulthood. Unfortunately, this cycle of discord and broken promises can even continue into the next generation.