When my daughter was just two months old, my husband and I decided to end our marriage. Our divorce wasn’t without heartbreak, but it was an easy decision to make, as it was obvious neither one of us was getting what we needed or wanted out of the marriage. As much as this affected me, my only concern was for my daughter. I spent days scrolling through parenting websites to learn how divorce affects kids and how to make the transition as easy as possible for her. I cried myself to sleep thinking about how my decision was hurting her. I would have done anything, even stayed in a loveless marriage, if meant ensuring my daughter’s happiness. I mean, they say divorce ruins kids, right?
Well, not necessarily. I spoke with John Carton, licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, who assured me that divorce doesn’t destine a child from trouble. “It increases the odds of some problems, but it is just one of many factors that influences our development,” he says. “Divorce is not the only predictor of behavioral problems in children. Ask any clinician if she or he has clients with psychological difficulties, but whose parents are married and generally nice people, and most will raise their hands.”
That’s not to say there won’t be struggles and an adjustment period for your children. Carton explains that children may have difficulties adjusting to the new situation at first, especially if the parents aren’t on the same page when it comes to rules and routine. This stress may cause children to develop a behavioral problem, but Carton assures they are often temporary. He adds that if parents are able to keep things cordial and provide a stable, loving environment for their children, most of these issues can be minimized. And for those who think staying together for the child’s sake is best, Carton feels that does more harm than good.
“Intact families can have more stress than divorced ones, contributing to problems in their children,” he says. “It would be short-sighted to infer that divorce is always ‘bad’ and staying together is always ‘good’ for the children.”
Still this doesn’t make the decision to divorce any easier on your child. Here are three tips to help your child through this life-changing event.