Will my Divorce Have a Long Term Effect on my Children?
In this blog, FLiP Associate Vanessa Sampaio identifies that for children, the process of divorce can be particularly overwhelming and difficult to understand. Vanessa discusses the same and shares her top tips in order to reduce the long term effect of divorce on your children.
Celebrity Kim Kardashian has recently shared that her childhood memories of how her parents handled their divorce influenced her approach to her own divorce from rapper Kanye West when it came to their four children. You can read the Independent’s article here.
Kim explained, “I did think about how my parents handled it with us. I just remember them being open. Ultimately, what matters is that kids feel loved and heard. You want to be sensitive because they’re just kids, and it’s hard to go through no matter what age. You have to make sure that you only go to a level that they can understand. It’s okay to show a vulnerable side. You never go to a negative side.” Kim also went on to explain that she consults a child psychologist to obtain parenting advice on how best to navigate her circumstances.
Divorce and all the fundamental life changes that come with it can be difficult even for adults to process. For children, the process of divorce can be particularly overwhelming and difficult to understand. It has long been understood that conflict between parents and an acrimonious separation can have a negative impact on the immediate and long term outcomes for children. For example, a recent study in 2020 found that divorce itself is not associated with higher instances of anxious or avoidant (as opposed to secure) attachments and poor relationship expectations in young adult children. However, interparental conflict is more strongly associated with these outcomes (click here).
Parental conflict can sometimes for example lead to greater instances of depression anxiety and self-esteem issues, behavioural disturbances, poorer academic performance and difficult adult relationships.
It is extremely important for parents to try and remain amicable with their ex-spouse, particularly in front of the children so as to minimise any psychological effects. Children do often remember their experience of divorcing parents long into their adulthood, so it is important to help them feel as secure as possible through the transition from their familiar lives with both parents in one household to the uncertain new beginning of living between two households with each of their parents.
Below are some tips that may help to ease the transition so as to reduce the effect of divorce on your children:
Honest conversations – Sometimes children can internalise things and feel as though the divorce is somehow their fault. It may be reassuring to have a conversation with them so they can understand in very simple, child-friendly terms why the marriage has ended, however without too much intricate details. It helps to have this conversation jointly with your former spouse and reiterate a message that they remain loved by both parents and will continue to see each of them and have a good relationship. Avoiding blame and criticism of the other parent is the ideal course, as is remaining open to answering children’s questions about how their lives might change and providing them with honest, but reassuring answers.
Easing transitions – Often the reality of a divorce can mean that the family home that the children have grown up in is sold and two new homes are acquired to live in. Some families find it helpful to have a period of co-nesting before embarking on a permanent move from the family home. Co-nesting involves the children remaining in the family home, but the parents taking it in turns to vacate to stay in alternate accommodation whilst the other looks after the children in the home.
This is not always possible due to financial constraints. But where parents do decide this could be ideal for their family it is helpful if:
- The arrangement is for a relatively short-term period e.g. 3-6 months
- There is a good level of communication between both parties
- There are clear boundaries and expectations as to how it will operate, e.g. who is responsible for re-stocking household supplies, rules as it relates to new partners visiting the home etc.
The benefit of this arrangement is that the children can remain in a familiar environment whilst they adjust to the separation, without too much change happening at one time.
Not drawing the children directly into adult disagreements – It is important that children are not placed in the middle of adult disagreements for example, by over-sharing detailed information about parental disputes, asking them directly which parent they would rather live with, or asking the children to carry messages between the parents rather than communicate directly with the other parent.
Sometimes, when the children are at an appropriate age, it can be helpful to seek advice from a professional about how to consult the children on their views as to decisions that will affect them. In this regard a child psychologist can be helpful, or a mediator who offers child inclusive mediation who can speak directly with the children so their thoughts can be taken into account in the most child-focused manner. Separated parent courses can also be very useful in helping parents to assess matters from their child’s perspective and approach matters accordingly.
Parenting works best if it remains a joint endeavour that both parents can work on together with each other and co-operate to find solutions that are in the best interests of the children.
Not speaking disparagingly of the other parent in front of the children – Children generally love both their parents and hold them in high esteem. It may be damaging and confusing for a child to hear disparaging comments about their parents. This may make children feel like they must choose a side in order to appease one parent or the other and can burden them emotionally.
Being encouraging of the other parent’s involvement in the children’s lives and the child’s time with the other parent – Even where emotions are heightened, it is important to demonstrate support for your children’s relationship with the other parent. It can help children to build confidence that they can have a good relationship and quality time with the other parent without feeling guilty about making the parent they are departing from feel sad, upset or alone.
Maintaining relationships with those they love – Sometimes children may fear that a divorce can lead to their separation from others who are close to them, whether that be their school friends or extended family members. Wherever possible, it is helpful for children to keep those relationships open, even though it may not be possible to continue to the same extent as prior to the separation.
Keeping up routines and familiar structure – In a time where a lot will be changing around them, keeping up familiar routines in so far as possible can be helpful in having a stabilising effect on children. For example, remaining at the same school, or taking part in their usual activities and consistent routines at home that they are used to may be comforting.
Here at FLiP we are unique in offering our client in-house counselling support services, as well as child inclusive mediation to assist separating couples in navigating their divorce in a manner which promotes healthy outcomes for themselves and their children.
Vanessa advises on all aspects of family law including the division of finances on the breakdown of marriage/civil partnerships, and the preparation of pre and post nuptial agreements. She also advises in respect of matters under TOLATA 1996 and under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.
If you would like to arrange a consultation with one of our therapists or lawyers please contact us below.