What Is The Effect Of Divorce On Children?
My own parents divorced when I was eight years old. Initially, when my father left, in order to ‘protect’ me (I assume) my mother told me that my father had moved away to ‘be nearer work’ (he worked in central London and we lived about twenty miles away in a small town called Rickmansworth). She went on to say that if it turned out to be more convenient for him, he would not come back (and, of course, he never did). You can imagine my confusion and distress.
Sadly, divorce is now extremely common in the UK. I provide some statistics relating to how this affects children below:
– about 25 ℅ of families with dependent children are single-parent families
– about 40 ℅ of these families live in relative poverty
– the majority of single-parent families do not receive any maintenance money from the absent parent
– about 10℅ of single families are headed by the father, with the remaining 90℅ being headed by the mother
5 Stages Of Grief:
The psychologist Kubler-Ross delineated 5 types of emotional reaction a child may go through following the divorce of his/her parents. These 5 stages are:
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
DENIAL – Unable to absorb the painful reality that the parents are splitting up, the child tries to convince him/herself that it’s not happening. For example, the child might keep telling him/herself that the parents are bound soon to reunite.
ANGER – The child may be angry at one, or both, parents. This is sometimes not helped by the fact that in some acrimonious divorces each parent may try to turn the child against the other parent ; it goes without saying that this can be extremely emotionally damaging to the child
BARGAINING – in this stage the child has still not come to terms with the situation and may try to convince him/herself that it can be ‘bargained out of.’ For example, the child may think : ‘If I’m always on my best behaviour from now on maybe my parents will get back together. They may think along such lines as it is not uncommon for young people to (irrationally) blame themselves for their parents’ divorce)
DEPRESSION – Reality finally hits and sinks in leading to the child becoming sad/depressed (click here for an infographic about childhood depression). Whilst this stage is painful, it is psychologically necessary.
ACCEPTANCE – This final stage does not necessarily mean that the child is fully emotionally recovered, but signals the fact that s/he is through the worst of the depression
Factors That May Increase The Child’s Psychological Resilience:
The psychologist Bananno suggested that some children may be quite resilient to the adverse effects of divorce, especially if the parent s/he continues to live with remains strong and positive and the child also receives good emotional support. Also, despite the divorce, the more positive things the child still has in his/her life (friends, clubs etc), the more resilient s/he is likely to be.
I am sure that in my own case the emotional damage I incurred as a result of my parents’ divorce was greatly amplified by the fact that, soon after it occurred, I became my mother’s psychological carer/counsellor. Indeed, she used to refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatrist.’ In connection with this, click here to read my article on the harm done to children when they become ‘parentified.:
Important Further Points About The Above Five Stages:
Finally, it is important to point out that Kubler-Ross stated that the above 5 stages can occur in any order and that not everyone experiences all 5. Furthermore, some individuals may well experience other emotions not listed within the above 5 in relation to their patents’ divorce.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).