How children become the victims of divorce

A Jordanian study found that Jordanian children are severely impacted by divorce and that they experience psychological, emotional, and social problems. (Photo: Shutterstock)
“Should we stay together for the kids?” This is the question that most parents will ask themselves as their marriage dissolves. For some, divorce is the only option. While the process of divorce and its aftermath can take a huge toll on the mental health of the parents, it is the children who become its true victims.اضافة اعلان

Divorce is overwhelmingly known for its negative impact on families and children. Globally, the conversation on how divorce affects children and the detrimental impact it has on their development is advanced and well researched. In our region, however, we are still behind.

Statistics and findings in Jordan

According to a 2020 report issued by the Supreme Judge Department, Jordan has seen a decrease in divorce rates; it can be attributed mainly to delayed legal procedures due to the pandemic. 2020 saw 17,144 cases of divorce compared to 19,241 in 2019. But while divorce rates are dropping currently, it does not mean that marriages have become any happier. In fact, the report claims that marital conflicts have increased during the pandemic.

A 2020 research study conducted by the University of Jordan found that Jordanian children are severely impacted by divorce: their daily life is disrupted, their living arrangements are altered and their academic performance drops. The study also found that they experience psychological, emotional, and social problems.

Factors that affect the way children deal with divorce

What many parents going through a divorce need to understand is that as they are finding new ways of relating to each other, their children are also obliged to find new ways to relate to their parents and the new parenting styles, which are bound to change. The reality is that there is no right time to get a divorce. While children may react differently to divorce, each age group and developmental level brings its own set of issues and challenges.

Several factors affect the way a child reacts to divorce. The most important is the level of conflict between parents. Conflicts that begin prior to a divorce, especially uncivil ones, are likely to make it extremely difficult to adjust and will significantly prolong that period; it is the beginning of a possible lifelong trauma for the child.

In some cases, parents will involve their children in petulant fights and majorly disrupt their stability and routine as a way of inconveniencing their ex-spouse during heated custody battles. When former spouses choose to expose their children to constant fighting and criticism of each other, thinking that it might lead to their child favoring them, what they are actually doing is damaging the development of their child and their ability to create healthy relationships with the people around them.

Another factor that goes into the way a child reacts to and deals with a divorce is their personality. Some children find it easier to make the transition in a more natural and understanding way, while others will show a greater deal of stress, tantrums, and withdrawal. In addition, some children are more naturally capable than others of coping with stress generated by the divorce. However, it is important to note that if drastic changes in a child’s behaviour remain persistent for a period longer than six months, parents might need to consider seeking professional help.

The amount of information that is given to a child regarding a divorce is another crucial factor in determining how well they will adjust to it. It is important to know just the right amount of age-appropriate, useful and supportive information to provide a child with, without making them aware of court matters and intimate details of the divorce. What a child does need to have is answers to their immediate concerns, such as where they are going to live and whether they are going to stay in the same school and have the same friends after their parents separate.

Short-term effects of divorce on children

The effects divorce can have on a child can be damaging in the short and long term, manifesting in different areas of their life. Some of the short-term effects, especially during the first year of divorce, which many consider to be the hardest, can start with difficulty adapting to change. New dynamics, such as a possible new living arrangement, can pose an initial threat to the stability that they relied on for so long. They can become much more sensitive and irritable, and experience feelings of anger, loss, confusion, and anxiety to new heightened levels as a result of feeling overwhelmed with all the new changes and the pressure of having to adapt.

Depending on a child’s age, their response to a divorce will vary. A pre-schooler, for example, is too young to understand the concept of divorce, will not understand why a parent is no longer as much a part of their life, and might begin to throw tantrums in order to see that parent and become clingy and overly attached. An elementary schooler can begin to understand that there is something wrong in their parents’ relationship, but might not understand the need for a divorce. What a child might begin to fear, however, is that if the parents are able to stop loving each other, they might also stop loving their child.

Preteens might experience feelings of guilt and can begin to blame themselves for their parents’ divorce, naively assuming that the separation happened because they have been misbehaving in school or because they have not been doing their homework.

Other short-term and almost immediate effects are less social and physical activity and a drop in academic performance. This is largely due to the child being preoccupied with the thought of the ongoing “battle” between the parents, as well as the daily interruptions to the routine, which leaves children distracted and unable to maintain social relationships. This could also be possible due to them feeling insecure about their family situation, therefore avoiding interacting with friends and others around them.

Long-term effects of divorce on children

The longer the legal battles and the more uncivil a divorce gets, the higher the likelihood of its causing long-term effects on children as they grow up.

Starting with behavioral and social problems, studies have shown that children of divorce have a higher tendency of developing aggressive and disobedient traits. Children of divorce can grow up to develop violent and anti-social behaviour that can potentially lead to the development of a criminal mindset, leading them to become social misfits.

Another risk could be growing up with trust issues and entering troubled and multiple failed relationships due to the loss of faith in marriage or the family unit. Some studies have shown that a child of divorce is two to three times more likely to end up getting divorced. This, again, is due to the lack of trust in the foundation of marriage, finding it difficult to resolve conflict, and adopting a negative mindset at the start of any new relationship.

Divorce may also increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Some research has even linked divorce to cases of bipolar disorder. It can also exacerbate the feelings of loss of general well-being, as well as deteriorate health.

Children are resilient and malleable, and can adapt to change, but it is important to not overestimate their resilience. A child is still a child, and divorce remains one of the biggest changes that a child may ever experience, which will inevitably change their life forever.

Making a child choose between parents is the first step toward hindering growth, leading to many problems in the future. So, the responsibility falls on the parents going through a divorce to manage the transition as delicately and smoothly as possible by maintaining a civil, respectful relationship in front of their children. Regardless of the situation, children of divorce deserve to be constantly reassured that, no matter what, they will always remain loved by both of their parents.

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