Just like all major life events, divorce and shared (not necessarily 50/50) custody affects children differently. The impact depends on the child’s emotional make-up, resiliency, life experiences (age-effected) and how the people around them react to and comfort them through what is almost always a very saddening experience (even when the marriage was terrible).
There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad. For example, if the marriage was horrible (abusive in any of the myriad ways abuse is manifested), divorce can sometimes have a positive impact on children — it frees them from the chronic and, often, debilitating stress that comes from living in a volatile home-life situation. However, if the marriage was only bad news between the parents — but the children were thriving despite the parents’ irreconcilable differences and, perhaps, lovelessness — there will certainly be a negative impact on the children.
“There is no doubt that divorce, and splitting up a child’s custody, will have a great effect on that child in many ways. Thankfully, however, these effects are not always bad.”
I believe, however, that good co-parenting relationships between parties, who share the custodial caretaking of their children, can counter-balance the negative impacts of divorce.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF DIVORCE:
(1) Children of divorce will have a greater chance (by about 15%) of getting divorced themselves. Of course, whenever I see this statistic, I have to wonder: “Do children who are raised in a loveless marriage have a 15% greater chance of having such a love-desolate marriage themselves?” Or, “Do children who are raised in a family where the parents disrespect one another’s every decision also grow up to have similarly disrespectful relationships with their spouses?”
(2) Children of divorce are at risk of becoming manipulative (one parent against the other) if there is a lot of child-driven opinion (not always bad; not always good) with regard to custody arrangements.
(3) Children of divorce who have focus issues (e.g. ADD, ADHD) and other special needs (e.g. autistic spectrum disorders, down syndrome, learning disabilities, processing disorders, anxiety disorders) may have those problems exacerbated by living in two separate homes. Of course, though these children’s progress in therapeutic intervention may initially slow down, a divorce sometimes actually helps these children develop higher-level coping and life skills in the long run.
(4) Children of divorce may excessively worry about their parents if either one of them does not “heal” well and/or there are financial problems after the divorce. These types of “grown-up” worries are often overwhelming for children and can affect them academically and, certainly, emotionally.
(5) Children of divorce may feel alienated by a parent when he or she begins dating . . . and step-siblings (or “step-significant-other-children”) come into the picture. The addition of significant others and their “kin” always presents big, emotionally-charged challenges for families. Feeling neglected and losing ground in esteem-building is what we worry about most in these types of situations.
(6) Children may become delayed/damaged in their ability to form trusting relationships with other people and, as they get older, their desire to form romantic partnerships may be stymied.
I always counsel parents, however, in my Divorce Mediation Practice www.grainemediation.com that the negative impacts of divorce can often be counter-balanced by really great parenting. For example:
POSITIVE IMPACTS OF DIVORCE:
(1) The historically “less involved parent” often steps up his or her involvement with the children. As long as the kids are thriving, most experts agree that having both parents involved in a child’s life is best. Why? Because two parents in a child’s life creates a better opportunity for that child to develop his or her bonding and connectedness/attachment skills (yes, they are skills). These skills form the basis from which all human beings learn to be social and develop the ability to have meaningful and loving relationships with other human beings.
Sometimes the reason for the increased involvement is less than noble-sounding (e.g. attorney advice, wanting to “show” the other parent that he/she actually cares, etc). What matters, however, is not the initial motivating factor that started the involvement in the first place. What matters is that both parents are positively involved in their child’s life and that both parents show that child how much they unconditionally love him or her. Motivation is not always the key to determining whether a behavior is helpful or not — sometimes the act itself is what is most important and sometimes, believe it or not, the “good” motivation ends up following the act. (Kind of like “smile and you might even end up feeling happy”.)
(2) Children can learn excellent conflict resolution skills from their divorced parents. Even if the parents “failed” at marriage, they can do a great job co-parenting the kids, which will, no question about it, require high level conflict resolution skills. Remember: Your kids are watching everything that you do!
(3) Children tend to have more opportunity for one-on-one time with their parents post-divorce. Most children love this special time with their mom or dad — as long as that parent actually pays attention to them (although not necessarily all 24 hours of the day). Teens, however, may not be so thrilled with so much attention (but maybe they will appreciate it when they are older!).
(4) Parents have the opportunity for refreshing breaks from the hard work of parenting when the children are with the other parent.
(5) There is a greater tendency for both parents to be involved in the day-in-day-out academic, social, extracurricular, and emotional lives of their children (versus just one parent being the “CEO and COO of Kids” as is often the case in intact marriage situations).
(6) In good co-parenting situations, children have the opportunity to absorb the fact that big changes, though scary, are not always bad. Children of divorce know that life is full of surprises. Those children whose parents do a good job at co-parenting (which often means that they do not prolong the bad feelings brought about with the divorce) can also absorb and learn through their parent’s role modeling that the ability to handle change and an undesired/unplanned rearrangement of one’s life is what makes, in many ways, for a successful and happy life!