If you ask any adult how their parents’ divorce affected them as children, you’ll get a sad story, even if it has been many years.
It is difficult for children of all ages when their family changes. Occasionally, when the level of conflict has been high, the divorce can come as a relief. More often, though, divorce is experienced by children as extremely stressful, with lots of powerful emotions swirling around in a confusing way.
There are many factors which make divorce stressful for children.
- Their parents are distracted by their own pain and the difficult decisions they need to make. This means that sometimes kids aren’t getting the attention they need.
- Children always assume that when their parent is feeling strongly it’s because they screwed up in some way. So, in addition to feeling sad, often kids feel vaguely guilty.
- Hearing their parents argue is scary for children, especially when they hear or sense that these arguments are about them.
- Often children feel that they are being asked to choose sides. This puts them in an impossible position. They can’t choose! They love both parents.
- With every change comes worry about an unknown future. Because children don’t have adult perspective and can’t really understand what’s going to happen until it actually happens, even small changes can be scary. And, with divorce, often there are big changes, like moves, changing schools, having two homes and having to schlep things back and forth, etc. All of these adjustments are challenging!
- Kids form an idea about who they are based on very simple things: I’m a boy or a girl, I live in this neighborhood, I play soccer, I have a family with a mommy and a daddy and a sibling. With divorce, this definition of self can get thrown out the window. Many kids experience this change in their family as meaning that they have to change their idea about who they are. This is hard! And scary.
- Young children have very simple ideas about relationships and how they work. Divorce creates more complex families. This can be really confusing for kids to understand.
- Sometimes parents make the mistake of confiding in their children. This is uncomfortable for kids. They don’t know how to comfort their parent…and it’s not their job.
Collaborative Divorce Reduces the Negative Impact on Children
A collaborative divorce is one way to help spouses to stay calm and keep the children’s best interests in mind. This can make a huge difference in the level of stress children experience and in giving them much better post-divorce outcomes. Collaborative professionals keep the children’s best interest at the forefront in these ways:
- Collaborative coaches are specially trained mental health professionals who are experts at helping parents to stay calm. They know what children need and can guide parents toward making wise decisions.
- When there are concerns about the children, sometimes a Child Specialist can be called in. This neutral professional interviews the children and can give them a voice in the divorce process.
- Win/win negotiation with trained collaborative lawyers means that both parents end up with a plan that really works for them. This means that the decisions will “stick,” eliminating the potential for conflict in the future.
- One of the best side-benefits of collaborative divorce is that parents can learn “business-like” communication skills which will help them to solve problems together as they continue as co-parents going forward.
- Children learn by example, and when they see their parents solving problems with respect, dignity and integrity, it sets an example for them to follow.
If you have questions about how a collaborative divorce will help minimize the impact of the divorce on your children, contact us at our Collaborative Practice California for more information.