Children of divorce do not have it easy. Even in amicable breakups, the effects of divorce on children can be substantial.
Research shows these children face numerous physical and mental health risks. Since the circumstances of every divorce are so unique, how divorce affects children will vary from child to child, but various studies show kids from divorced families are more likely to suffer health problems, have a higher risk of premature death, and tend to have more emotional and behavioral problems. Psychologists have generally found that children of divorce also are more likely to get divorced themselves later in life.
It is common for couples to try to stick it out and stay together solely for the sake of their children. While their intentions might be noble, this is never a good idea if your marriage is truly broken. Although these children, some studies suggest it actually is the amount of parental conflict they are exposed to that causes harm rather than the event of divorce itself.
Therefore, if you still feel divorce is your only option after considering all the ramifications it will have on your life, it is best to move forward with the process and focus on how you can help your kids through the transition.
The good news is fathers are not powerless. There is a lot you can do to help mitigate the impact of divorce on children.
Being A Dad To Children Of Divorce
One of the biggest reasons why divorce has so many negative effects on children and kids struggle coping with divorce is that in some tragic cases, the divorce essentially sidelines one parent – typically fathers – from their lives.
Even as shared parenting gains more traction across the country, state child custody statutes still do a poor job of keeping both parents involved in children’s lives after divorce. The fact is, there still are many stereotypes in the family court system that work against men and fathers. No matter how much progress women make in the workplace, and no matter how much responsibility dads take on in childrearing, some judges still hold rigidly traditional views about fathers being the breadwinner of the household while mothers fill the role of homemaker.
When you are starting the divorce process, you should make sure you have an attorney in your corner well-versed in the child custody laws in your area. You want to make sure you hire an attorney who is going to fight as hard as they can to make sure you remain a major part of your children’s lives. The sooner you get in touch with a divorce attorney, the better.
That puts the impetus on fathers to do everything they can to be the best dads they can possibly be. Depending on your custody arrangement, your parenting time with your child might be limited, so you need to make the most of whatever time you do have. That means doing more than just spending time with your children. You can up your “dad game” by making sure you are present, emotionally engaged, and involved with your kids.
Gameday Coffee is a charity organization dedicated to fostering healthy relationships between fathers and their children. The organization is based on the simple yet profound premise that small gestures from dads, such as sharing a cup of coffee with your son or daughter, make a tremendous impact on the lives of children.
“It’s quality time,” said Cordell & Cordell CEO Scott Trout. “… That’s something that is not just useful, but intentional and purposeful, and I think that’s part of being a great dad. … It is getting into a routine of an intentional and purposeful relationship with your kid.”
Even if you are allotted less parenting time with your kids than you would like, there still are simple and significant ways you can empower them. Ensuring children have two parents who are available, active, and engaged is the most effective way to minimize the impact of divorce on children.
Co-Parenting Children Of Divorce
A major reason coping with divorce is so challenging for children is that the process tends to be adversarial and pits each parent against each other. Seeing their parents, both of whom they likely have affection for, turn on each other is confusing and heartbreaking for a young child who still is developing emotionally.
Society would do well to support couples attempting to split amicably as that would help foster healthier co-parenting relationships. A lot of guys make the mistaken assumption that divorce means a clean and complete split from their ex. That is never the case for divorcing parents because their relationship must continue in the context of co-parenting.
You might harbor a fair share of differences with your ex, but it is in your best interest to do what you can to put those issues behind you, so you can co-parent more effectively. Even if you cannot stand your ex, you should try to treat her like a business partner and remain professional. Clear and consistent communication is key.
If you find it impossible to get your ex to cooperate, you might consider attending co-parenting counseling to help improve your relationship.
“Co-parenting counseling is a specific kind of counseling that is intended to teach parents who are separated or divorced to communicate more effectively,” said Cordell & Cordell family law attorney Jamie Spero. “The purpose of it is to talk about the kids’ best interest in a neutral environment with a neutral third party who has special training. This person is supposed to help you learn to communicate more effectively so that you can co-parent your children easier.”
Co-parenting counseling is not typically covered by insurance and can involve an expensive out-of-pocket cost, but divorced parents have much to gain by prioritizing their children’s best interests.
Remember, when your children see you fighting with their mother, it makes coping with divorce that much harder for them. Think about what is best for them and do what you have to do to help them through this difficult process.
Parenting Classes For Coping With Divorce
Another way to help offset the effects of divorce on children is by utilizing parenting classes and other tools and resources dedicated to helping families transitioning through divorce.
There are even online programs designed specifically to help children adjust to their new family structure. In fact, every January, the Child-Centered Divorce Network collaborates with divorce professionals from around the world to offer divorcing parents free tips and resources to help their kids as they are coping with divorce.
“We focus on educating parents who are contemplating divorce or going through divorce or even having passed divorce and now co-parenting,” said Child-Centered Divorce Network founder Rosalind Sedacca. “We want to give them advice, information, tips, and resources to help them make the best possible outcome for their family and children.”
Some states, such as Utah, even offer free voluntary Divorce Education for Children classes to help kids understand what is happening. Other jurisdictions, such as Miami-Dade County in Florida, require parents to attend parenting courses to help them focus on their children and cooperate effectively.
Enrolling in a parenting class at the start of the divorce process is also a good way to show the judge that you are doing everything you can to be a good father if there is a looming custody decision. It reflects well on you that you are doing what you can to educate yourself and improve your parenting skills, in order to help your children cope and process all the complicated emotions they are experiencing.
“What’s best for the kids is if mom and dad can communicate civilly towards one another and have the focus on what is in the kids’ best interests and not upon the deficiencies in their own relationship or why the relationship broke up,” Spero said.
Counseling For Children Of Divorce
Sometimes, the effects of divorce on children are so severe that professional help is needed. Kids do not always feel comfortable opening up to their parents, regardless of how supportive you are. They might feel a sense of loyalty to one parent or the other. Or, perhaps they blame themselves for the divorce.
In those cases, a professional counselor or therapist can help children coping with divorce. Although typically framed as something that primarily affects adults, mental health is a serious issue for children of divorce, and a licensed therapist can help them find a sense of balance in the wake of their parents’ breakup.
When determining whether your child needs counseling, there are a number of signs you should be on the lookout for. If you notice persistent unusual behavior that lasts for several weeks – such as your child acting unusually angry, not getting enough sleep, not eating enough, struggling in school, etc. – it is a good indication that your child needs help.
Many parents are unsure how to find a therapist or counselor who will be a good fit for their child, but there are resources that can help. You can ask your doctor for a referral as they typically have working relationships with a number of mental health specialists. You can also ask your friends and family members and even your divorce attorney if they know of any local therapists who have experience working with children.
Build A Support System
No one cares more about your kids than you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help when guiding them through this transition. It takes a village to help children who are struggling when coping with divorce.
Make a list of your closest friends and family members who you trust the most. Reach out to them and let them know that you and your kids are going through a difficult stretch and see if they might be willing to help out from time to time. Just knowing you have someone who you can count on in case of emergency, such as if you need someone to pick the kids up after school if you are unexpectedly asked to work late, can ease a lot of stress.
It also is a good idea to fill in your child’s teachers or caregivers and tell them to be on the lookout for any unusual behavior. Although you do not want to share the intimate details of your divorce with just anyone, it is a good idea to let your child’s teacher know what is going on, so they can help them through the transition at school.
Divorce changes so many things about a child’s life. They are no longer part of a traditional two-parent home and now have to bounce back and forth between two separate homes, but a solid and dependable support system can help ease the burden on you and give your children more of a sense of stability.
Put Your Children’s Interests First
What all these tips have in common is that they put your children’s interests first.
As you begin the divorce process, consider child-centered divorce strategies that avoid stress and negativity when dealing with your ex. When children hear one of their parents demeaning the other, they are likely to internalize it as an attack against them, since they see themselves as part of both their parents. It is understandable if you need to vent to someone about the stress of divorce, but it needs to be to someone other than your children.
If your ex is especially difficult, this might mean you have to occasionally swallow your pride and turn the other cheek, but before every action, consider what is best for your children and act accordingly. This will help them adjust and they will come to appreciate your sacrifice as they get older.
How divorce affects children is always going to vary from family to family. If you and your ex-spouse can work together amicably toward the greater good of what is best for your kids, they will almost certainly have a much easier time coping with divorce.
However, if your ex seems determined to cause problems for you despite your best efforts to cooperate, it might be necessary for you to get in touch with a family attorney to see if there are any legal remedies, such as a child custody modification, that might be available to you. Children face enough obstacles as it is. They certainly don’t need to be caught in the middle of their parents’ bickering.