How to Survive Divorce and Disconnection From a Parent – For Kids

How do kids survive divorce & abduction?

Much of the information below is from a wonderful book called Caught in the Middle: Protecting Children of High-Conflict Divorce, by Carla B. Garrity and Mitchell A. Baris.

Wallerstein (in the American Journal of Child Psychiatry, 1991) lists six tasks that children of divorce must master in order to fully move forward in their lives. These are:

1. Resolving anger and self-blame
Children often blame themselves for the divorce, and get angry at themselves and their parents for allowing the divorce to happen. Many children feel that there must be something wrong with them, or their parents would not have divorced. They can get very depressed and withdrawn, and stop communicating with their parents out of anger and fear. Many children can feel very lonely.

2. Resolving losses
A child´s entire worldview needs to shift after their most important foundation splits apart. Divorce is a loss of innocence and safety.

3. Accepting the permanence of divorce
Many children of divorce, even as adults, dream that their parents will reunite someday. This makes it difficult to accept reality and te finality of the break.

4. Acknowledging the reality of the marital rupture
Learning to accept that the marriage has fallen apart. This means not pretending that parents are “really together,” when they live apart, have divorced, etc.

5. Disengaging from parental conflict and distress and resuming customary pursuits
Learning to do this to the point that the divorce is not the primary focus of the child´s time and energy.

6. Achieving realistic hopes for their own relationships
Many children of divorce create an “all or nothing” view of relationships, and when the smallest thing goes wrong, run away instead of dealing with things patiently and constructively.

From the professional point of view, there are seven primary factors that help to determine how well a child will cope with divorce. These are not the same for parentally abducted children, for reasons discussed further along in this article.

Some professionals say that with knowledge of a child’s temperament they can almost predict how that child will cope with a divorce. Easygoing children seem to bounce back from and be resilient against the greatest odds. These are the children that can accept being told no, have good social skills, and deal well with occasional rejection by peers.

There is no “good age” that assures a positive outcome, but age does seem to play a role in how children react to the divorce, and what sorts of divorce-related issues become primary for them. Children under five often hurt the most initially, but do best in the long-term. This might be because they have fewer memories of an intact family, and integrate with less distress into new family structures. Children between ages five and twelve openly grieve, have reunion fantasies, and express anger at one or both parents. Academics and peer relationships often suffer, and this age range brings with it much chaos and disruption for the children. Teenagers are highly vulnerable as they begin their path towards self-definition, explore their sexuality, & prepare to leave home and form their own relationships. It can be difficult for them to feel confident about these things after experiencing divorce. They can act out, get depressed, and take sides in their parents battles. It can be a challenge for them to cope with the divorce, talk it out, and get help that could assist them in dealing with things better.

Research has shown that gender doesn’t make as much of a difference as was previously thought. Both genders suffer, though in some cases in different ways and at different times. While one set of studies found that girls did better than boys in the initial years after a divorce, later studies of the same children found that for girls troubles came up during adolescence.

Environmental Stability
A new home, school, friends, financial difficulties, all are stressors that only add to a child’s distress. More loss, on top of the loss of an intact family, only creates more instability. Generally speaking, the less environmental change the better.

Psychological functioning of the residential parent
If the primary caretaker is depressed, withdrawn or angry all the time, their effectiveness as a parent can temporarily or permanently be altered or impaired. Children need greater connection and comfort during the divorce, and the more connection, the better children will fare.

Intensity of conflict between parents
This is seen as the most influential factor in children’s welfare post divorce. Fortunately it is the one parents have the most control over. Aggression, behavior problems and depression are frequent early responses to conflict between parents. Children are most likely to heal if their parents heal. Often in the first year post-divorce, parents battle furiously. They belittle each other values, verbally and even physically attack one another, and often force the children to take sides. The sooner this abates, the better off the children will be. Ongoing conflict is a constant message to the children that their right to be loved and cherished by both parents, and placed before all other issues, is on shake grounds. They are not most important, is how children often perceive ongoing conflict. They may get the sense that the battleground, who wins or loses various small or large battles, is more important to their parents than creating peace. Children feel responsible for ther fighting, especially when it revolves around childcare and time sharing.