Children of divorce: a large yet unseen population, and how they are affected

Children of divorce: a large yet unseen population, and how they are affected

   Despite half of the marriages in the United States ending in divorce, it is a very sensitive topic, and rightfully so. The idea of falling out of love scares people, maybe just as much as the idea of falling in love entices people.

   Divorce doesn’t just affect the two people who were married, it affects everyone around them. Their family, their friends, and in many cases, their children. Forty percent of divorced couples have children. That is a large number of children who have to live a life that many children don’t even consider.

   “Even though it’s common, each individual deals with it differently,” said Branden Norton, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with Alliance Counseling. “It also depends on the circumstances surrounding the divorce.”

   Divorce can happen for a plethora of different reasons. From things as complex as substance or domestic abuse, or something as simple as just growing apart from one another, all of which are difficult paths to go down. It makes sense that parents would be going through a tough time during these situations, and that can easily start to affect their children.

   “Just having any conversation in advance of anything actually happening,” said Norton, “so maybe having a conversation two or three weeks in advance of one parent moving out, almost like a heads up. Open and honest communication about it is probably one of the most beneficial things, Unfortunately for a lot of parents, I think they get caught up in the emotion of it, and they get focused on their needs, and in a lot of these situations, the child’s needs get left behind. Most of the time the children’s things need to come first, parents need to think is this beneficial for the kids.”

   This advice is easier said than done, however. Being a parent is one of the most difficult things a person can undergo during their lifetime, and adding relationship troubles on top of that makes things even harder. This kind of stress can make it almost impossible to healthily balance being a parent, and doing what’s best for a person’s own mental health.

   “It came to the point where (my parents) were arguing so much, or they were focused on their own things,” said Miguel, a senior at Jefferson High School (whose real name has been kept anonymous for this story).  “My brother had to raise me, more after the process though, they did the minimum of cooking dinner and that’s about it, the rest just figured it out.”

   This sort of conflict causes a majority of divorces’ negative effects to spread around a family like the common cold, as each individual in the family can start to feel abandoned, neglected, or even just resentful. It can create a problem that is almost too “messy” to clean.

   “In my experience, they are generally more conflictual, and messier.” said Norton, “It’s pretty rare that you see a fairly harmonious dissolving of a relationship, where people agree on everything and are able to co-parent with the child’s best interests in heart.” 

   When parents don’t have a child’s best interest at heart it can lead to many issues for the child. For example, this can lead to the child having trouble at school, whether that be academic troubles or social troubles. 

   “When it came to school I did ok,” said Miguel. “I would end up sleeping a lot in class because their (my parents’) arguing would keep me awake. I was kinda depressed when there were school events and everyone was there with their family looking all happy and I was pretty much alone.”

   About half of children will see their parent’s marriage fall apart, and if that happens to a child between the ages of 7 and 14, the child is much more likely to experience behavioral problems (LegalJobs). Children in all schools have to deal with the consequences of this incredibly common issue. Yet it seems that educators have no idea how to go about helping people affected by divorce. Obviously, schools do not have any place to try and solve a couple’s relationship issues, meaning they can’t solve this problem at the source, but what else can be done? In what ways can we go about helping so many children who are facing this issue?

   “If administrators, educators, and teachers are aware that a child’s parents are going through a divorce, my only recommendation would be to monitor the kid’s academic performance and provide any necessary accommodation,” said Norton. “It’s important that other areas of the kid’s life aren’t disrupted so maintaining structure would be beneficial, however, if the kid is struggling to maintain their academic performance temporary accommodations with clear communication could be beneficial. Aside from being flexible during the time of transition, providing a safe space for the kid to honestly express their feelings if they need to would be helpful. Discouraging open and honest communication about their feelings could contribute to emotional repression and could potentially have long-term negative outcomes.”