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f you're considering ending your marriage, you may be concerned about the impact of divorce on your children. While divorce is generally seen as a negative occurrence, it can lead to some positive changes for the whole family in the long term. The effects of divorce on children aren't all bad.
While divorce rates are on the decline according to U.S. Census data from 2019, there are still many modern stressors putting a strain on marriages. There's a good chance your kids have friends who have experienced parental divorce, and that you know some divorced couples yourself.
Despite its prevalence, divorce can still be a scary idea. Yet, you may decide it's the right choice for you. In this article, we'll help ease your mind about the outcome for your kids.
Children of divorced parents can experience:
It's a given that your family dynamic will change post-divorce. For you and your former spouse, this could lead to newfound happiness. The conflict you may have been living with is either diminished or gone, and you can move into single parenthood with a sense of peace you weren't able to achieve as part of a married couple.
This shift in your mental health is likely to transfer to your children, even if it doesn't happen right away. Kids can feel parental stress, so they'll also pick up on it when you're able to let some of that go.
Research shows that children of divorce with at least one well-functioning parent do better than those with maladjusted parents.
Of course, a positive change in your emotional state won't happen overnight. You could be facing new negative effects of single parenting, and it's easy to be so focused on the logistics of managing a household that you don't stay attuned to your own feelings.
For the first two years after my divorce, I was running on autopilot. I think I took survival mode to a whole new level.
Everything changed when I started taking care of myself — and I mean really taking care of myself:
I stopped staying up until 2 a.m. scrambling to finish work.
I started slowing down right in the middle of my toughest single-mom moments to do some deep breathing.
I deviated from our busy schedule to spend a few moments at the kids' favorite park, even if I didn't think I had the time.
Those small exercises grew into regular self-care practices that I still insist on making time for to this day (four years later): meditation, walks, and trips to the sauna, to name a few. And my kids are calmer because my sense of calm expands to our home environment.
To some extent, your children will respond to your divorce the same way you do (even if their perspective is different). Address your well-being and you could shift how the effects of divorce show up for them. Happy parents make for happy kids!
As a married parent going through some relationship troubles, you could be a bit preoccupied and unable to concentrate on keeping a strong connection with your children. During the divorce proceedings, you may have to spend less time with them as you get the details worked out.
But you could feel much calmer when you're officially a divorced parent. You might have more energy to devote to your relationship with your children post-divorce. The same could also be true for your ex-spouse.
Your kids will have time with you independently, which offers a huge opportunity to reinforce (or establish) emotional safety — a building block of healthy child development and adult relationships alike.
Here are a few ways to work on that:
Children of divorce will feel safe when they have at least one stable adult and a calm environment there to catch them at all times. It's possible to provide this in any amount of time you have them, regardless of what happens in their other home.
One of the bonus effects of divorce on children is the ability to double up on big life moments because of the nature of a co-parenting arrangement.
Many people moving from two-parent families to single-parent families choose to keep birthday parties and holiday traditions separate. That means your kids could end up with twice as many cakes, gifts, and Thanksgiving dinners as they're used to. Most of them, especially younger children, don't mind this outcome of divorce!
It's not just the fun moments that a child might get more of when mom and dad live apart. They may also get extra support from being able to interact with each side of the family differently or more often.
As a single mother or father — custodial parent or not — you may need your family to help out with childcare. That means your kids get to grow closer to their grandparents, cousins, or other extended family members.
The impact of divorce can be lessened by having someone to share it with. That's true for both parents and kids. If you're intentional about making new connections, divorce offers children an opportunity to be part of a community of people whose family structure is similar to theirs.
To create a sense of belonging for your kids, seek out other divorced parents:
Over time, your acquaintances and their kids can become family friends.
Even if your kids are too young or not yet willing to talk to their new friends specifically about divorce, they'll notice the way they also go back and forth between houses. They'll be less ashamed to own their circumstances.
This social support from other divorced families can normalize divorce and blended families and help children feel like they're not alone. The American Psychological Association reports that having a solid community system can significantly contribute to a child's resilience to hardship.
With all the changes that can come about as a result of divorce, there are lots of opportunities to model healthy boundaries for kids. They may get to learn important interpersonal lessons that children with married parents don't.
Mastering boundary-setting yourself is key if you want your kids to experience this as a self-esteem booster rather than a negative effect of divorce. You'll have the opportunity to practice quite a bit with your post-divorce interactions:
While seeing adults set healthy boundaries is beneficial for all ages, it's especially important that adolescents in high school have a role model in this area because they're about to enter serious relationships themselves.
Remember that your kids watch how you talk to other adults and they'll be even more curious about adult relationships following a divorce. Modeling boundaries is a gift you can give them that will last for life.
Parental separation is not an event most children foresee or desire when they envision their life course. However, the most important factor in a child's life is love. And two single-parent households can offer just as much support and love as intact families.
When you look at your split as a chance to discover deeper love and big lessons, the long-term effects of divorce on children can be positive.
Chelsea is a twice-divorced mom of two boys. She is happily single parenting and doing her best to balance two simultaneous co-parenting relationships. Despite the complications, Chelsea can see the beauty in her story and believes healing is possible for the whole family.