It seems that more and more marriages are falling apart everyday. Divorce
rates seen to be climbing astronomically. In so many of these divorces there are
children to be considered. What is best for the child? Who will get custody? Will
the child be scarred for life? It’s really hard to say. The overall effects on our
children vary according to the factors involved. I am going to attempt to discuss a
few of the problems that can occur with children of divorced families and what
parents can do to ease the transition. I will limit this discussion to infantile age thru
Let’s start with understanding the parents role concerning being together or
Obviously, two parents can provide children with far more guidance,
sustenance, and protection than one, and are more likely to prevent
the kinds of psychological disturbance that may result from
deprivations of these necessities …When one parent is temporarily
absent from the intact home, it is likely that the other will be available
to ratify the child’s needs in a loving way. This is not so readily the
situation in the divorced home. ( Gardner, 1977).
In this statement he illustrates the importance of having both parents together. This
can be emphasized further with a statement from Buchanan, Maccoby, and
Children’s parents are their anchors. Parents provide the
structure for children’s daily lives, and even when parents are not
functioning very well, children depend on them for a sense of
security that enables them to cope with their developmental tasks.
When one parent leaves the home, the child realizes a shattering
possibility; parents are not always there.
It is not hard to realize that divorce can have a devastating effect on children.
Let’s brake it down by age groups; infants, toddlers, and so on. DeBorg
(1997) states that infants “do not understand conflict, but may react to changes in
parents energy level and mood.” She goes on to list possible reactions like “loss of
appetite; upset stomach – may spit up more; more fretful or anxious.” She says that
“parents should keep their normal routines,” and “stay calm in front of the child.”
Toddlers “understand that a parent has moved away, but doesn’t understand
why.” I know that my son was very confused. He was only two when my wife and I
separated. He seemed to display allot of anger and insecurity. DeBorg says that a
toddlers reactions could include “more crying, clinging; problems sleeping;
regression to infant behaviors; and worry when parent is out of sight.” My son, his
name is Cody, definitely fits this profile. He cried constantly. It seemed that
nothing would calm him down. If you got him to go to sleep, good luck keeping him
there. As far as infant behaviors go, his biggest problems were wanting to be rocked
like when he was younger and trying to go back to the bottle. DeBorg say to “allow
some return to infantile behaviors, but set clear limits.” Easier said than done I can
Preschoolers “don’t understand what separation or divorce means,” they
“realize one parent is not as active in his or her life” (DeBorg, 1997). Their
reactions could include “pleasant and unpleasant fantasies; feeling uncertain about
the future; feeling responsible; and they may hold their anger inside.” Deborg’s first
strategy listed for parents is to “encourage the child to talk.” This makes sense if
you are concerned with straitening out these issues of anger and feeling responsible.
It seems to be the only way to really understand your child’s problems.
Gardner (1977, p. 42) talks of something called the “oedipal phase.” He
explains that this occurs between ages three and five. “This is the period… when a
child develops a strong possessive attachment to the opposite-sexed parent.”
Gardner says that “at times the attraction can take on mildly sexual overtones toward
the opposite-sexed parent…”, but “the sexual desires are generally not for
intercourse, the child being too young to appreciate that act.” He explains that “if a
boy begins sleeping in Mother’s bed thoughout the night, an a continual basis, the
likelihood that oedipal problems will arise is great… this holds true for a father and
daughter when they are the ones who remain together following the separation”(p.
91). Learning of this has raised my concerns for my son. His mother lets him sleep
with her every night, and she believes nothing is wrong with the arrangement. This
is a factor I will deal with on my own, as soon as I figure out what to do.
Continuing on to early elementary age, children’s understanding becomes
more apparent. DeBorg (1997) says that children “begin to understand what divorce
is,” and “understand that her or his parents won’t live together anymore and that
they may not love each other as before.” Reactions, as she describes, could include
feelings of deception and a sense of loss. Children have “hopes that parents will get
back together,” and “feel rejected by the parent who left.” Children of this age can
have symptoms of illness like “loss of appetite, sleep problems, diarrhea” and may
“complain of headaches or stomach aches.” DeBorg does not list any ways of
curving these symptoms of illness, however she does list some strategies for helping
these children adjust. She writes, “encourage the child to talk about how he or she
feels; answer all questions about changes…; and reassure the child.” From my
standpoint, these ideas hold true regardless of the situation. You should always
encourage your children to talk about there feelings and always take them seriously.
Children can adjust to divorce. It is years of subsequent
fighting between their parents, or an inappropriate child custody plan
that can take a terrible toll” (Olsen, 1998).
So if you want to help your children succeed, then help them adjust to your divorce
together; mom and dad. Never let them feel that they cannot have a relationship
with the other parent if at all possible.
Gardner, R. A. (1977). The Parents Book About Divorce. Garden City, NY:
Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Buchanan, C. M., Maccoby, E. E., & Dornbusch, S. M. (1996). Adolescents
After Divorce. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
DeBorg, K. (1997). Focus on Kids: The Effects of Divorce On Children.
Olsen, P. (1998). Child Custody Savvy. http://www.savvypsych.com/