As parents, we might assume divorce always has a negative emotional impact on children. Your family and friends may be reaffirming this notion to you that it may be best to wait until the children are older, thereby, lessening the impact a divorce may have on them. When children are exposed to chronic conflict between their parents, however, divorce may be a better choice for parents than staying together and continuing to expose children to the chronic conflict.
Living under one roof can be extremely stressful for parents who might otherwise consider divorce but are working hard to both keep the family together and meet financial obligations. The impact of this stress often contributes to chronic conflict among the parents, and when children are exposed to this conflict and stress, they experience stress themselves.
Often the chronic conflict that occurs while the family is under one roof becomes the norm for children, and not only will their behavior reflect what they experience, it will most likely carry over into the decisions they make in their relationships as adults.
HOW ARE CHILDREN AFFECTED BY LIVING IN A CHAOTIC HOME?
Children who experience distress because of chronic conflict and chaos between their parents are very likely to be impacted negatively in several ways, for example: As they grow up, they may lack role models for healthy relationships; if the conflict is particularly harsh or volatile, children may learn and model a lack of respect for others; children may also find it difficult to trust others or develop faith in healthy, positive relationships, and these effects may impact their relationships as adults.
Some signs indicate a divorce may be a better option for children, here are just a few.
- Children’s misunderstanding of a “healthy” relationship is: Two parents do not have to be constantly at each other’s throats to demonstrate an unhealthy relationship to children. Should you and your spouse keep from showing affection, intimacy, and general happiness while together, there’s a possibility a child’s opinion on “healthy” relationships might be skewed. When a child is raised by two unhappy parents, they most likely do not see them showing one another affection such as hugging, kissing, or paying compliments to each other. As the child matures, they may struggle to build successful intimate relationships for themselves, whether it’s dating, friendships, or even how they treat their children, simply because they never learned how to “love” and be affectionate with someone.
- Chronic conflict projects negative energy: When children live in a household full of conflict, oftentimes, they are inclined to feel pressure to take sides. Not only does this cause anxiety, depression, guilt, and many more emotions, but it also could cause children to misbehave or “act out” due to this pressure at home. In situations such as this, children are placed in the position of having to deal with adult problems that they should not be exposed to.
- Your spouse is an addict: While this may seem obvious, many people don’t understand the kind of influence an addicted parent can have on a child. Whether it’s prescription pain medication or alcoholism, children see what their parents do, and by their nature, will imitate. In terms of alcoholism and influencing your child, there is a fine line to walk. A parent doesn’t have to be a raging drunk every night to have an effect; they don’t have to be arrested with a DUI charge, and they don’t have to have the fridge stocked full of alcohol. When a child watches an adult drinking alcohol, they should be learning how to do so responsibly, as well as when times are considered “inappropriate/appropriate” for drinking, how to be safe while getting tipsy, etc. If your spouse or significant other doesn’t involve their position as a parent in their drinking habits, it may be a red flag.
Parents who model positive relationship behaviors, including ending partnerships that are unhealthy, toxic, or simply not working out, can show their children everyone deserves to be in happy and healthy relationships. By not settling for less themselves, they can help their children learn to make similar choices.
Children do much better when their parents are happy and doing well, physically, and mentally. Sometimes finding this state of well-being and happiness requires ending the marriage or partnership. If there is no way to reduce the level of conflict between parents, the children are unlikely to derive any benefit from their parents staying together when levels of relationship conflict are high and unlikely to lower. Separation can often relieve the stress at the root of chronic conflict. When parents separate or divorce, the stresses of daily living under one roof are often relieved.
Through my work as a divorce coach, I have found three key factors typically determine how well children will adjust to divorce:
- The quality of the relationship the children have with each parent before the divorce
- The length of time the chronic conflict has occurred as well as the intensity of the conflict
- The ability of the parents to make the needs of the children a priority during the divorce
The bottom line is this: the happiness of our children, now or in the future, does not rest solely on the institution of marriage or divorce in and of themselves. Their happiness is based on routine, confidence in their relationships with their parents, and their perceptions of their parents as people of strong character. The fear of parental abandonment puts children at the greatest risk when there is chronic conflict and/or when divorce happens. Therefore, parents need to ensure, that whether they stay married or decide to divorce, their relationships with their children are a top priority.
If you’ve been considering divorce for some time but are hesitant because you believe it may leave a bad mark on your children and their future, instead take a look at your relationship from their point of view, and their point of view as an eventual adult. You may find that divorce might just be better for the kids. If you’re unsure, ask yourself some questions. Does your spouse exhibit symptoms and habits that might lead your children down a path less than ideal? If so, it might be time to take the plunge.
Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men