It seems that even when they can’t seem to agree on much of anything else, many divorcing spouses are committed to protecting their children from the pain of divorce. In fact, concern for the welfare of the children has kept many miserable couples together longer than they would’ve liked under other circumstances. Whether this is a good thing or not is a matter of debate.
Some mental health professionals would assert that the damage that can be done to a child’s social and emotional development when there is ongoing disconnection, conflict, and contention between mom and dad, can be much worse than the divorce.1 Researchers have consistently found that conflict between the parents within the home is often associated with emotional and behavioral problems in children.2 This is why it has often been said that it isn’t divorce that hurts children, but rather the way we divorce.
Regardless of where you stand on this debate, most of us can agree that the better we understand the concerns and fears that children experience during and after divorce, the better equipped we will be to alleviate those fears and give them the support they need.
The following are the two most common fears that kids have when it comes to parental conflict and divorce.
#1 “It’s my fault.”
One of the most common fears that children experience when it comes to the breakup of their parent’s marriage is that they were responsible in some way to the contention that led up to the divorce. They may have seen and heard their parents arguing and falsely believed they were the cause of the argument. Worry that they are somehow responsible can lead to feelings of guilt and lowered self-esteem. 3
Alleviating these fears begins with how you tell the children that you are getting a divorce. Both parents should sit down together with the children when they tell them about the impending divorce. The kids should be able to ask questions and receive honest answers. The more they can understand about the situation the less false inferences they will make on their own.
#2 “I will be have to choose between my parents.”
Sitting down talking with children together can also go a long way in alleviating the second most common fear kids experience about divorce. They are afraid they will have to choose between their parents. These fears may be driven by things they have heard from their friends who have already been through a divorce. It is critically important that parents are careful not to put down or say negative things about the other spouse in front of the children. Doing this can often heighten the worries they are having about having to choose.
Kids are not able to understand the complexities of relationships and things that are happening with regard to divorce. Parents who work together and cooperate to effectively communicate with their children can go a long way in helping them cope with the future.