If I were asked by the City Council to write a letter that the city will share with couples with children who are considering or going through divorce, I would try to tell the parents and especially fathers about what would likely be happening to their kids if they do not commit to making things better. In many cases, it is possible to alleviate the problems arising from the dramatic changes in family life.
Divorces tend to have a detrimental impact on children but maintaining trusting relationships can fix it. Less than half of the children in the United States spend their childhood with both biological parents, so we know the consequences. Children respond negatively to divorce, especially in the first two years, and especially boys. In about 90% of cases, children stay with mothers, and single motherhood has increased in many modern societies. The biggest risk for the children with only one parent, usually mother, is to grow up in poverty; consequently, they also tend to do worse at school. This problem disappears with enough money, or if the custody is held by the father. In divorced families, about a quarter of all children develop severe psychological problems, compared to only tenth of kids from families with both parents. Boys suffer the most, especially during the first few years. Children externalize problems with conflicts or internalize it with bad mood, anxieties, and insomnia. Most divorced parents remarry, which can cause even more problems for the children (Arnett, 2012). Research shows that children of divorce face poor health and difficulty in maintaining relationships. A study of more than 10,000 divorced parents and children found that quality of relationships is the protection from most negative consequences (Chirban, 2017).
The most influential factor is the family process, or the quality of the family relationships before, during, and after the divorce. However, in all families parental conflict is linked to children’s emotional problems, but if family conflicts are actually resolved with divorce, children’s wellbeing often improves. Or if the father continues to be lovingly involved in the life of his child, the child’s problems diminish. Unfortunately, only slightly more than a third of children have at least weekly contact with their fathers within a few years after the divorce. This contact declines steeply if the father remarries (Arnett, 2012).
Good relationships between father and child enhance resilience. One study found that a relationship with the father built on trust, openness, and encouragement correlates with the child’s satisfaction in life, unlike simply spending time together at dinners, shopping, and movie watching (Edwards, 2020). Divorce intensifies aggressiveness in an adolescent and dependence in a younger child. You can help your younger daughter or son by establishing predictability and offering ongoing reassurance. With your teenager, you could help him to establish independence, support his self-interest, and support him in gaining responsibilities (Pickhardt, 2011).
If you have trustworthy people among your family and friends, let them build deeper connections with your children. Studies show that relationships between the child and relatives on the noncustodial parent’s side weaken after divorce. Do not let your child lose family traditions and celebrations, as often happens. And if possible, let your kid stay at his home, because this way he would less likely lose his friends and other support systems (Anderson, 2014).
As an adolescent divorce-child myself in the past, I have my own set of short recommendations to offer, ranging from warnings to pleadings. Let us start with the wrong things to do. First, never use your child of any age as a middleperson between you and your ex-partner because it is unbearable to be such a messenger. Second, do not share your private opinions about their other parent and all the problems that person ever caused you, because it can crush your child’s enthusiasm for human connection too early in life. Third, do not lie, especially while using your child as a temporary tool to gain something out of the situation, because such behavior is hardly forgivable. Fourth, do not tell your child that they are just like the other parent, because it is not true. Fifth, do not tell your child that their being in this world has destroyed your life. Sixth, do not include your children’s personal belongings into a sharing pot with your ex-spouse. Seventh, do not shout in your child’s face. I have a few things to add that would be good to do. First, be honest about your state of mind and needs. Second, remember how much you mean to your child. Third, have deep conversations.
Anderson, J. (2014). The Impact of Family Structure on the Health of Children: Effects of Divorce. The Linacre Quarterly, 81(4), 378–387. https://doi.org/10.1179/0024363914z.00000000087
Arnett, J. J. (2012). Human Development: A Cultural Approach. United Kingdom: Pearson.
Chirban John T. (2017). Saving Your Children from Becoming a Statistic of Divorce. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/age-un-innocence/201707/saving-your-children-becoming-statistic-divorce
Edwards B. G. (2020) The Effects of Absent Fathering on Children’s Well-Being. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/progress-notes/202004/the-effects-absent-fathering-childrens-well-being
Pickhardt, C. E. (2011). The Impact of Divorce on Young Children and Adolescents. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/201112/the-impact-divorce-young-children-and-adolescents