Should You Wait to Get Divorced Until the Children Are Older?
Today, the idea of staying married for the sake of the children seems antiquated. The notion that divorce is in itself damaging to children has largely been debunked, and the prevailing professional opinion seems to favor children being raised by happy parents, whether those parents remain married or not. But is there a case to be made for delaying divorce until your children reach an age when they are better able to adapt? A recent blog on DivorceMag.com by Dr. Deanna Conklin-Danao, a family therapist, looked at the developmental stages children go through and suggested some points to consider based on how divorce might affect them at different ages:
- Infants — Babies develop an attachment to their primary caregiver, which is usually the mother. When parents live in separate households, it can be more difficult for the child to bond with the other parent, unless parents understand the importance of working cooperatively to build a strong foundation for the future.
- Toddlers — It’s believed that for toddlers to feel loved and secure, they need physical contact and consistency, which makes frequent contact with both parents the ideal situation. Again, parental cooperation is paramount.
- Preschoolers — Preschoolers have made attachments with both parents, so they tend to associate love with their parents being together. When parents separate, these kids can experience a range of complex feelings such as “guilt, anger, embarrassment, worry, sadness, and loss.” That makes it important for divorcing parents to encourage children to ask questions and answer honestly, “with age-appropriate information.” Preschoolers faced with their parents’ divorce can demonstrate “regressed behavior (sleep issues, toileting accidents, etc.) and renewed separation anxiety (clinging behaviors, especially around transitions).”
- Primary school — Children at this age are beginning to understand the concept of divorce and experience it “in a more sophisticated manner.” They can “adapt to co-parenting more easily than younger kids.” However, parents cannot take their adaptiveness for granted; they can help their kids feel more in control by allowing them to become involved in the decisions that will affect them.
- Tweens — Kids this age tend to have “rigid moral views” and “unique social concerns and worldviews.” They are also more apt to feel embarrassed by a divorce, which could lead them to cope through harmful behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual activity, cutting, and so on.
- Teens — This is a complex stage of development during which kids naturally “separate themselves from their parents and develop their own identity.” Under the best of circumstances, it’s a minefield for parents to negotiate, so divorce makes it even more difficult. One of the greatest problems is asking a teen to behave too much like an adult, including being the parent’s confidant during this emotionally difficult time.
- College-age — While a child is at college, the idea of home still looms large, so a threat to that security can be especially difficult. These kids can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under their burgeoning adulthood. Cynicism and defeatism can set in, and the fact that the kids are away can make it difficult for parents to provide the comfort their kids need.
Obviously, there is no perfect age that will make it easier for your kids to accept your divorce. This reinforces our opinion that it’s better for the children that the parents be happy, cooperative, and mutually supportive. Living together unhappily for too long can make it difficult to work cooperatively and supportively with your ex. That risk has to be a major factor in your decision about whether and when to divorce.
Finally, how you divorce can be important. When you mediate your divorce, even if you’ve fallen out of the habit of cooperating, you can repair that problem throughout the mediation process. To learn more about mediating your divorce, call Solutions Divorce Mediation, Inc. at 1.631.683.8172 or contact our Long Island office online.