Separation and children: How it affects your kids
Separation and divorce affects a significant portion of New Zealand children. Research shows that 50 percent of children still fantasise about their parents reuniting 10 years after separation, the affects of separation and divorce are clearly felt on kids in the short and long term.
Short-term impact of separation and divorce on children
In the short-term, parental separation and divorce leaves children struggling emotionally. Anger and sadness are normal, regardless of your child’s age – even if they are adults!
Sadness can lead to isolation, loneliness, and social difficulties. Children may also underperform academically as a result of their parent’s break-up. Anger can also be seen as children grapple with feelings of abandonment, guilt, worry or blame towards another parent. All of these emotions are normal and should be expected. However, if deep anger or sadness continues beyond two to three months then you should seek counselling for your child.
Another important short-term challenge is that children often believe they are responsible for their parent’s separation. Children are particularly vulnerable to these kinds of thoughts between the ages of three and eight. It is up to you to assure them that they are not responsible for your decision to separate from their other parent.
Long-term impact of separation and divorce on children
Separation and divorce leave an enduring legacy in the lives of children affected by it. Children from broken homes are more likely to experience higher incidence of drug use, criminality, broken marriages in their own lives and depression. On every wellbeing indicator, kids who come from broken families do worse, in general, than children from intact, functioning families.
But it is not the separation alone that leads to such poor outcomes in children. Ongoing parental conflict has substantial impact on children’s long-term outcomes. Research shows that your ‘mess’ has to be cleared up. No matter what happens, separation and divorce will have a negative impact on your children, but the longer the conflict lasts, the greater the impact is. It is really up to you and your spouse to sort it out like adults.
Age of your children
Your children will be affected by your break-up no matter what age they are when you separate. In most cases, younger children will endure more psychological disturbances than older children. In some cases these disturbances will be evident in the short term, such as oppositional behaviour, grief and sadness, or isolation. In other cases, the challenges may not manifest themselves until they’re older, at least in adolescence, and sometimes in early adulthood. Research clearly indicates that the longer you can make your relationship function civilly, the better adjusted your children will be.
Gender of your children
Following separation it seems that generally, girls will do best. They seem to have the emotional capacity to digest and deal with the separation – at least on the surface. This will continue for up to five years, with boys usually having the greater challenges, specifically in learning and social domains. However, by the time parents have been separated for 10 years, the trend reverses, with girls showing the greatest psychological vulnerability. It seems that their initial resilient response may only be at a superficial level and that, over time, the stress associated with their parents’ break-up takes its toll.
Separation and your child’s development
Separation and divorce leave ugly, unwanted stains on the fabric of our children’s lives. Children need their parents to be involved in their lives. Countless studies demonstrate significant benefits to children socially, cognitively, academically, psychologically, emotionally, and physically when their parents stay together and stay involved in their lives.
All children lose out when parents separate and divorce. They lose access to both of their parents when they need them, and this loss impacts profoundly on their development. When children are secure they thrive because they feel safe enough to explore, develop, learn, and grow. Separation creates insecurity, which threatens their development and exploration of the world. Instead, they put their energies into seeking reassurance rather than learning, experimenting, and growing.
You can be an ex-partner, but you can never be an ex-parent. You have the right to form and dissolve relationships, but your children have no choice. Your decisions have consequences beyond just you. What is in your best interest is not necessarily in your children’s best interests. Children are a long-term responsibility. Parents should provide the best care and the best chance for their children to develop healthily, physically, emotionally and psychologically. To do this, except in cases of high volatility, abuse, or aggression, parents would be best to act like adults and put aside their difference to satisfy their children’s long-term needs. Two parents working it out and being functional is what is best for your child. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but as a parent we give up the right to do what we want when we want. Our children need to become our priority.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz