Moving through divorce, when you’re a parent, involves moving through the swamp of emotions about the demise of the marriage and the potential damaging effects on our children. It is an triumph of will and courage when parents remember to keep their children’s needs front and center in the divorce process. The most recent research on the effects of divorce on children reveal that these children are twice as likely to suffer from depression, and twice as likely to struggle with substance abuse, high school dropping out, and teenage pregnancy.
What can parents do to provide a buffer for their kids? The answer lies in parents’ abilities to keep their children separated from the words and behaviors of interparental conflict. Even more important, it is when parents pay attention to the quality of the parenting relationship with their children that they inoculate them against the ill effects of divorce.
Children can bear conflict. After all, conflict is a natural part of our human experience. Thus, if parents disagree or dispute something in the divorce process, children can bear that. It is when parents bring their dispute conversations into their childrens’ worlds that the conflict becomes unbearable. There is no longer a buffering membrane that protects them.
Similarly, during the divorce process, parents often forget how to parent. They become absorbed in their own pain and anguish, forgetting that their children need structure, routine and stability, now more than ever before. Depressed and angry parents tend to lose touch with their capacity for warmth. Yet warmth is a key factor in the quality of parent-child relationship that predicts outcome post-divorce.
Ask anyone who is a parent, and they will tell you that they love their children and wish to protect them from harm. Yet divorcing parents too often forget that how they behave, in the name of love, can have profound, long-lasting effects on their children’s well-being. Remembering to hug, remembering to be clear about rules and boundaries, remembering to be fully present keeps children safe from the harm of separation and divorce.