05 Sep It’s for the Kids
One of the most common questions I get from a person or couple contemplating divorce is this. “What will divorce do to our kids?” It’s a very good question but unfortunately, not one that is easy to answer. There is a lot of research out there on this very subject but the fact is the research is mixed. Some longitudinal studies on children of divorce say that there is always a strong negative effect. There are other studies of similar length and breadth that suggest that is not always the case.
From my experience, there is no way of accurately predicting the outcomes of divorce on children. There are just too many variables including their ages, number of siblings, personalities, attachment styles and levels, amount of support, unsettling of routines, and so on. There are a few things, though, that I believe are common factors on outcomes with children.
First is the level of conflict. Much of the research that I have read suggests that one of the big factors on children is the level of conflict between the parents. The worst-case scenario is the couple that divorces but continues to have overt conflict that the children see and, more importantly, feel from up close. So, Raleigh Rule number one, married or divorced, lower the level of conflict (at least in front of the children) if at all possible.
Second is the quality of relationship with each parent. Raleigh Rule number two states that married or divorced both parents must have the willingness to create great relationships with the kids and do the hard work of parenting across time. Moreover, it is important after divorce for both mom and dad to support a quality relationship between the kids and the other parent. Too often, kids are pawns and bargaining chips in the divorce game. Too often, kids are asked to choose sides or show loyalty to one parent over the other.
Finally is the level and quality of communication between the ex-spouses. One of the most difficult things, it seems, is to have a functionally communicative relationship with someone you just got divorced from but if you have kids, that is a necessity to create as soon as possible. You may no longer be married but you remain the co-CEOs of an important venture and that being raising your offspring. Raleigh Rule number 3, then, is the sooner divorced couples can set aside enough of their differences and begin to again functionally co-parent, the better chance their children have of getting through divorce with a minimum of damage.
I understand that these “rules” are not always possible. There are scenarios in which the kids are, sadly, better off with less or no contact with one of their parents if there has been abuse, neglect, or heavy substance abuse. In these cases, you just have to know that there will be emotional damage to the children but hopefully at a lesser level than what might have been had they remained in close contact with the abusive or neglectful parent. In most cases though, parents can do a good job of co-parenting after a while and the sooner they do, the sooner their kids can start to heal and settle into the new normal.