In North America, almost 50% of marriages end in divorce. Children growing up in single-parent families have been proven to be at greater risk for physical and emotional illnesses, juvenile delinquency, dropping out of school early, and drug or alcohol abuse. Three out of four teen suicide victims come from broken homes, and 70% of long-term prison inmates were raised in single-parent families. Research has shown that divorce is more traumatic for a child than the death of a parent.
However, in this imperfect world, divorces and break-ups will continue to occur. Since that is a fact, it is important that parents try to minimise the effects on their children, not an easy feat at a time when they themselves are likely to be experiencing a severe emotional upheaval. Here are a few suggestions which may help:
* Encourage the children to talk honestly about their feelings. Take time to listen. Don't ignore their fear, sadness, guilt or anger. Acknowledge their emotions, don't judge or make light of them.
* It's acceptable to share your feelings with them, but do so in an appropriate manner. Don't add to their insecurity with a remark like, "Mommy's so sad she wants to throw herself under a bus!".
* Hide any hostility you feel toward the other parent. It's important that children love and respect both of you. It's better to say nothing for a while, if you honestly can't talk about your ex in a non-judgemental, neutral fashion.
* Keep their routine as normal as possible. It's best if they can live in the same house, go to the same school, and keep the same friends. The stress of a family break-up and the loss of one parent's daily presence, is about all a child should be required to deal with at one time.
* Don't engage in a competition with your ex for the children's affections. Overindulgence and bribery won't buy love.
* Don't use a child as a go-between. If you have something to tell your ex, or if you want information, be adult enough to communicate it in person.
* Never make remarks to make a child feel guilty. "Maybe if you had tried harder in school, Dad wouldn't have left.", is outright emotional cruelty.
* Unless your ex has a negative influence on the children, encourage a continuing relationship. Children benefit from having both parents in their lives.
* Inform the teacher about the altered situation at home. Ask to be informed about any changes in attitude, behaviour or decline in marks.
* If problems arise that you don't feel equipped to handle, get psychological help for the child.
* Be patient with your children and with yourself. Emotional wounds take time to heal. Instead of dwelling on "what might have been" try to focus on planning for a brighter future for all of you.
* Keep your own spirits up. Children will often sense and reflect the moods and emotions of the people around them. Take time to make new friends and have some fun. Include the children in your activities where possible. A happy parent can't help but have a positive effect on the atmosphere in the home.
Divorce is the greatest trauma many children have to face. Through divorce, their family is destroyed, their security threatened, and their way of life altered permanently. In most cases, they are forced to grow up and assume greater responsibilities sooner than they would have, had their family remained intact.
A wise and conscientious parent will follow as many of these suggestions as possible in order to minimise the long-term damage the divorce will have on his or her children.