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Children of Divorce

Children of Divorce

By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.

Although only twelve years old, Sharon (a fictitious name) vows she will never marry. Why should she take the risk? Having closely observed her parents' unhappy marriage and bitterly contested divorce, she assumes that the pain of married life far outweighs the chances for marital happiness.

This is a hypothetical example of one possible effect of an unfortunate marriage and divorce on children. If handled with restraint, cooperation, and consideration for their emotional well-being, however, a divorce need not be emotionally traumatic or harmful to the offspring. Parents don't necessarily stop loving their children when they stop loving each other.

But isn't it better to stay together for the sake of the children, it might well be asked, no matter how unhappy or loveless a marriage? I believe not.

It is healthier for children to be raised in a one-parent home that is functioning smoothly and harmoniously than in a two-parent home in which there is too much conflict. Children growing up in an unhappy home - especially one in which there is bitter fighting - are probably exposed to more psychological trauma over a longer period of time than children exposed to the comparatively brief confusion of divorce. And it is probably easier for them to adjust to a divorce than to constant parental conflict.

More importantly, all parents have to ensure that their own emotional needs are satisfied "before they can best meet the needs of their children, and sometimes a divorce is the only way this can be accomplished.

My advice to those who have decided to divorce is that there are several things you can do to help your children adjust to the divorce. First, realize that your children will probably experience many of the same emotions you will have: grief, hurt, confusion, anger, and guilt. Be willing to listen to and accept their feelings. Let them know that you are available to listen non-judgmentally to what they may have to say.

Unhappy emotions are only temporary and need not be feared or shunned. But if not expressed in words, children may express them in actions.

Second, be aware of the tendency for children to blame themselves for the marital failure. They may believe that Mom and Dad had fought over them and if only they had been better behaved, things would have been different. Assure your children that this is in fact not the case. You and your spouse are divorcing because of difficulties you had with each other and not because of anything they did or failed to do. You don't want them to carry a burden of unrealistic guilt about your divorce for the rest of their lives.

These maneuvers are to be avoided because they give children the feeling that they are being used as pawns in their parents' conflicts, and are not loved as unique, separate persons. All children need and deserve such love if they are to grow up to be emotionally healthy and secure. As long as the children of divorce are assured of a continued, loving relationship with each parent, the impact of divorce on them can be minimized and overcome.


About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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