One out of every two marriages
today ends in divorce and many divorcing
families include children. Parents who are getting a divorce are
frequently worried about the effect the divorce will have on their
children. During this difficult period, parents may be preoccupied
with their own problems, but continue to be the most important
people in their children's lives.
While parents may be devastated
or relieved by the divorce, children are invariably frightened
and confused by the threat to their security. Some parents feel
so hurt or overwhelmed by the divorce that they may turn to the
child for comfort or direction. Divorce can be misinterpreted
by children unless parents tell them what is happening, how they
are involved and not involved and what will happen to them.
Children often believe
they have caused the conflict between their mother and father.
Many children assume the responsibility for bringing their parents
back together, sometimes by sacrificing themselves. Vulnerability
to both physical and mental illnesses can originate in the traumatic
loss of one or both parents through divorce. With care and attention,
however, a family's strengths can be mobilized during a divorce,
and children can be helped to deal constructively with the resolution
of parental conflict.
Parents should be alert to signs
of distress in their child or children. Young children may react
to divorce by becoming more aggressive and uncooperative or withdrawing.
Older children may feel deep sadness and loss. Their schoolwork
may suffer and behavior problems are common. As teenagers and
adults, children of divorce often have trouble with their own
relationships and experience problems with self-esteem.
Children will do best if they know
that their mother and father will still be their parents and remain
involved with them even though the marriage is ending and the
parents won't live together. Long custody disputes or pressure
on a child to "choose sides" can be particularly harmful
for the youngster and can add to the damage of the divorce. Research
shows that children do best when parents can cooperate on behalf
of the child.
Parents' ongoing commitment to
the child's well-being is vital. If a child shows signs of distress,
the family doctor or pediatrician can refer the parents to a child
and adolescent psychiatrist for evaluation and treatment. In addition,
the child and adolescent psychiatrist can meet with the parents
to help them learn how to make the strain of the divorce easier
on the entire family. Psychotherapy for the children of a
divorce, and the divorcing parents, can be helpful.
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