A popular radio talk show host once described a young child coming home worried that her parents might get “the vorce.” Through that child’s eyes and ears, divorce was something unpronounceable, unexplainable, and undesirable. All she knew was that she didn’t want it.
Unsurprisingly, the impacts of divorce on younger children are far-ranging with a high degree of unpredictability. As children grow into adolescence, their responses to divorce become more mature, approaching adult-like levels of grief, resistance, adaptation, and bargaining. Even within a single-family system, children of different personalities and stages of maturity process divorce is varied and potent ways.
In all cases, divorce is disruptive, but disruption is not necessarily a negative impact. Multiple credible studies show that living with continual conflict within a single home can be more destructive than living across a healthy system of two households. c a new and healthier environment.
The key is for parents to recognize the impact of their dissolution on the children and commit to modeling pro-child decisions and behavior. DComply is a great co-parenting app that will make the complications of divorce just a little less stressful for both parties involved.
For many children in unified families, the parental unit is a foundation that defines stability for all aspects of life. Parents, while distinct, are somewhat interchangeable. It doesn’t always matter who makes lunch, drives the carpool, or helps with homework. A trip through the drive-through is welcome, no matter who is at the wheel.
Once the divorce is on the table, all those routines and rhythms get complicated. The separation of parents into “sides” undermines the steady bedrock of a child’s life. No matter who is responsible or initiates the separation, fragmenting the foundation is like pulling the bottom block from a child’s psychological Jenga—unbalancing and risky.
For younger children, disruptive destabilization ripples across every aspect of their development—physical, psychological, social, and educational. Children under the stress of separation can develop anxiety that impacts eating and sleeping patterns and intensifies emotional swings. Physical impacts are often accompanied by psychological developments that mirror the stages of grief, like denial, anger, and depression.
Critically, just when children need more support—not less—they sometimes lose social connections as school attendance and friendship connections are often disrupted by more complicated schedules and interactions. Both school absence and symptoms of depression are well-documented impacts on children experiencing divorce.
When educators observe a dip in performance or engagement, one of the first causes they suspect is a disruption in the family system. As rust follows rain, divorce can corrode a child’s disposition and performance in every area.
Older children, in the early teens and middle adolescence, are impacted not only by the first-order impacts like shifts in schedules and relationships but also by the impacts of their own responses to the situation. As they age, youth need to explore healthy separation from their parents and begin to follow their own convictions and values. Divorce can disrupt that natural progression, especially if parents enlist their older children as confidants or allies in the conflict or détente of post-divorce relationships.
While older children often have the vocabulary and intelligence to process a divorce with one or both parents, they don’t always have the emotional maturity or relational sophistication to detect or respond to the subtleties of adult-adult conflict. Even if no parent ever seeks it, older children often feel obligated to affiliate with one parent or another. That can create guilt, internalized anger, or a newfound power and leverage that distorts the parent-child dynamic.
Most observers focus on the psychological impacts of divorce on children, but there are financial and physical impacts as well. Although divorce occasionally triggers a positive impact on household finances, the normal pattern is more likely to emerge as greater financial stress for the parent with less income and greater financial discretion for the higher-income adult.
Although this pattern can be gendered and is moderated by child support payments, the challenges of supporting two households, separating financial accounts and obligations are common to almost every divorced family system.
You can easily track your child support payments by clicking here. Children often perceive financial impacts without fully understanding the source. They may even blame themselves and develop an aversion to expressing their needs out of a childish desire to protect the parents from stress.
That pattern can have physical repercussions if children avoid mentioning sickness or medical conditions out of fear of the costs.
Child nutrition can also be impacted if financial stresses displace established menus and options in favor of lower-quality substitutions. From home-cooked meals to routine fast food is an oversimplified but realistic experience for children in divorce.
Older children with younger siblings often drift into informal parenting, taking on caregiving and household responsibilities that used to be up to the parents. Under the guise of “helping out” with transportation, child supervision, bedtime routines, etc., parents may thrust older children into adult-like responsibility. Older siblings may even forgo their own pursuits or opportunities to help take care of the family.
It is not unusual for older students to add a job and take on their own costs as a way of defraying impacts on the family budget. Established birth order patterns of responsibility, peacemaking, and caretaking may intensify as children negotiate the complicated dynamics of growing into adulthood across two households.
Although divorce can be a source of traumatic impacts, and that remains the predominant cultural expectation, “the vorce” can also yield a different, more stable platform where children develop important skills of flexibility, learn productive interpersonal strategies, and discover their own agency to live out their values and commitments.
The key to redeeming what could otherwise degrade into destructive trauma is upgraded personal support and psychological safety from both parents as well as other adults. Instead of cutting time and individualized attention for the children, parents, teachers, and other friends who commit—and follow through—with deeper engagement and development are more likely to see children survive and even thrive through a divorce, emerging as healthier and more centered adults.