Divorce affects children differently, depending on their gender, age and stage of development. Their world, their security and their stability seems to fall apart when their parents’ divorce. The following are some universal responses that researches have found among children of divorce:
- Feelings: Children worry that their parents don’t love them anymore and they feel abandoned. They feel like the parent who left has divorced them, too. They feel powerless and helpless because they can’t get their parents back together. They can’t speed up or slow down the process. They feel angry although they may not express their anger. They often feel they are at fault. They may believe something they did or said caused a parent to leave. They grieve. Divorce is a loss in the lives of children and parents. They experience a grieving process very similar to mourning a death. They experience conflict of loyalty.
- Behavior: Acting out behavior ranges from very mild behavior, such as difficulty sleeping, to extremely destructive behavior, such as suicide, drug abuse, or violence. Other behaviors may include problems in school, nervous habits, repetitive
physical behaviors, and regressive behaviors such as bed-wetting, fears, and use of comfort items. Children may become clingy and whiny and they may need greater understanding of their moods and behavior. They have a greater need to be nurtured. They may think they have to “take care” of their parents. Giving up one’s childhood to care for emotionally troubled parents is a widespread characteristic in children of divorce.
These behaviors are common for children experiencing divorce. There is a false assumption that children are “naturally resilient” and can “get through” a divorce with little or no impact on their lives. Instead, they need support systems and individuals to help during the transition.