The Consequences of Childrens Emotional Turmoil during Parents Divorce

Divorce is a kind of death. As such, all parties involved go through the natural grieving process. They grieve for what turned out to be illusion, for their security, hopes, dreams, and futures now changed if not outright shattered.

There are many things that happen during a divorce.  Splitting up possessions, someone has to move, deciding visitation; but the biggest question is, ‘What is happening to my child?’  Children’s emotions get more muddled during a divorce than those of the adults, and the adults are often so busy that they don’t realize it is happening.

Many parents become wrapped up in their own struggles, disillusionment, and pain and forget that what they are feeling is even less than what the children experience. Kids look to the adults around themselves to learn who they are, who they can be, and to understand the world and meaning of everyday occurrences. A child that is out of the infancy stage will naturally notice more of the whole of their own reality, including the new things a failing marriage or relationship brings called conflict, anger, and tears. This rips away what they thought they knew about existence and replaces it with confusion and pain. The security they found in the understanding and the basic idea of ‘parents’ is destroyed.

The unfortunate truth is that fear, self-recrimination, and misunderstanding become as much a part of their lives during and after a divorce as their favorite toy or show.  This continues until the primary parent, their most trusted confidant, or more likely some combination thereof can convince them that the destruction of a big portion of their childhood is not their fault and that nothing would have prevented it.   Helping them understand that they are separate from the act of divorce and yet still (hopefully) intertwined in the hearts of the divorcees is a true challenge and will test the mental, physical, and emotional strength of their caregiver(s).

Many children withdraw, trying to defend against the loss of the foundation of their beliefs in what is and can be.  The child may withdraw physically as well, avoiding relationships or activities they previously enjoyed.  This may occur because of a sense of guilt regarding being happy when the world around them is in turmoil.  It may also occur because the child is afraid of being left again.  There are times when this withdrawal is a way to punish themselves for the perceived crimes they committed, which they may believe is the root cause of the divorce.  They feel that they no longer deserve to be loved, protected, or happy, and take it upon themselves to make it so.

Others will act out to test the truths and locate the boundaries of this difficult new frontier they find themselves unwillingly traversing.  They may revert to behavior from much younger periods of life.  Older children will wall off their emotions, displaying anger and resentment instead of showing that they are hurt.  Children of any age may suddenly begin to do things that were previously outside their personality, thinking that it will make acceptance more likely.  Older children, if they have younger siblings, may suddenly become overprotective of them.

All children test and explore their own realities in their own way and finding constructive, healthy ways for them to do this is no easy task for their parent(s).  The execution of this task is increased when those children are grieving.  At the base of it all, divorce is a cause of grief for a child, as would be a death in the immediate family.  They have suffered an enormous loss, through no fault of their own, and they cannot understand without a period of adjustment.  No matter what symptoms they display, the solution is always to love them as hard and unconditionally as possible, and make sure they know about your unfailing love and devotion.