No child wants their parents to get divorced. Children are most often resistant to the idea of their parents getting divorced, and they may experience short-term distress throughout the process. For parents, it can be devastating to see their child upset about their divorce. Many feel guilty about getting divorced, especially when they see the emotional impact that divorce has on their children.
That is not to say that divorce is easy or that your child will not be upset about your divorce. Not every child adjusts as easy to change. Some children require more intervention than others in order to reap the positive benefits of divorce. However, contrary to popular belief, most kids will not suffer from lifelong mental health problems because of divorce.
During this initial adjustment period, it can be difficult to see how your divorce could have positive effects on your child. Divorce can have unexpectedly positive benefits for children in the long term. Divorce offers children the opportunity to become more resilient, develop healthy coping skills, and bond with their parents in a new way.
As a parent, you want the best for your child — and you might be wondering whether staying together or getting divorced is the best option for your family. In making that decision, do not forget to consider that the effects of divorce on children are not always negative. Here are five of the most important lessons that children learn when their parents get divorced.
1. Children are exposed to less conflict and aggression when their Parents Divorce.
Many couples are tempted to stay together “for the kids” — yet experts uniformly agree that divorce is the better option when there is a risk the child might be harmed. This is particularly true when one parent is abusive. Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence can be far more traumatic for children than coping with their parent’s divorce.
Even if your fights with your spouse are not physical in nature, children learn social-emotional skills through observation. Whether you are exchanging physical blows or harsh words, children model their behavior after that of adult role models. Divorce may set a better example for your child, especially when the alternative exposes them to unhealthy or aggressive behaviors.
This is not to mention that many children are not shocked when their parents finally get divorced. Some children expect or even want their parents to get divorced, especially when they witness their parents fighting all the time. If you are locked in a volatile marriage, chances are that it will not come as a surprise to your child that you decide to end your relationship.
2. Children can learn healthy communication skills from their divorced parents.
Divorce offers you and your spouse to teach your child one of the most important skills they can learn: conflict resolution. When your child sees you communicate calmly and effectively with your ex-spouse, they realize that it is possible for them to have healthy interactions with others, even when they disagree. It gives you the opportunity to model positive communication for your child in real-life contexts.
Of course, this only applies if you and your ex-spouse commit to a friendly (or at least civil) relationship with one another. Regardless of your personal relationship with your ex, you will continue to have a co-parenting relationship to some degree for the rest of your lives. It benefits both you and your children to establish healthy co-parenting and communication practices with your former spouse.
If nothing else, you should ensure that you refrain from speaking ill of the other parent in front of your child. When children hear you insult their other parent, they often integrate these messages into their sense of self. Talking trash about your ex in front of your child can ruin all of the positive mental health effects that your divorce could have on them.
3. Children have more opportunities for one-on-one time with their parents after divorce.
Single parenting means that your children get to spend more time with each parent one-on-one. If one parent used to be more involved with the other, you might find that your parenting responsibilities become more equal. Greater parental involvement with either parent benefits your child’s relationship with both of you.
Supportive family relationships — like the one you are (hopefully) building with your child — are considered protective factors against negative mental health outcomes. This means that spending quality time with your child after the divorce could serve as a buffer against some of the potential negative impacts of the experience on their mental health.
4. Children’s mental health benefits when their parents are happier and less stressed.
There is a strong connection between parents’ mental health and their children’s mental health. Children tend to be happier and healthier when their parents are, too. If your marriage is stressing you out, or leading to symptoms of depression or anxiety, you might not be showing up for your child as the very best version of yourself.
Learned behavior can be an important component of the mental health issues that develop in children. In other words, when your children observe you acting a certain way because you feel anxious, depressed, or stressed, they learn to mimic those behaviors — even if they are bad for their mental health.
For this reason, it’s important that parents take care of their own mental health needs before attending to those of their children. Parents may sometimes feel like it is selfish to get divorced for their own health and happiness. However, everyone in the household benefits when both parents are happy and healthy!
5. Children develop resilience after living through parental divorce.
Many of us assume that you are either born resilient or you are not. Resilience is a skill that can be strengthened with practice. Adjusting to big changes, including divorce, offers children the opportunity to exercise and develop this important life skill.
As a parent, you can facilitate your child’s resilience by helping them adjust to a new version of normal. According to the CDC, strong parental relationships are the number one predictor of resilience. In other words, what you do or say to your child during and after your divorce could have a more profound effect on their long-term mental health than the divorce itself.
For those children who are able to develop it, resilience allows them to continue to thrive in the face of hardship, even as adults. At first, children often find divorce to be a scary and uncertain time. However, by showing your child that they are capable of coping with these challenges, you can strengthen their resilience — and improve their mental health for the rest of their lives.