When two bulls fight, it is the grass that suffers. This is especially true in divorce. It is the children that suffer in the whole mess.
Research has found that almost 60 per cent of all divorces involve couples with minors.
Many couples have tried to justify their actions by saying that their children are better off in a home without conflict than in one where constant fighting and marital unhappiness prevails. However, the evidence does not support this theory.
Research by psychologists such as Dr Harvey White has tried to find out the effects of divorce on children.
It’s apparent that the younger the child, the more severe the effects. The children suffer an acute crisis related to the loss of a parent and the turmoil of divorce, as well as long-term emotional problems that appear later on.
The two-and-a-half- to three-and-a-half-year-old group experience aggression in toilet training, irritability, whining, crying, fearfulness, separation anxieties, sleep problems, confusion, aggressiveness, and tantrums. They are confused and frightened while their play is ‘joyless.’
The four-year-olds are severely depressed, confused, and blame themselves for the divorce. Many are depressed, constricted in play and behaviour, and express a greater need for approval, attention, and physical contact after the divorce.
The five and six-year-olds handle divorce between their parents better. Girls are more vulnerable at this age to loss of their fathers, and they maintain sad fantasies of recovering their fathers with their love. They function poorly in school. The actual divorce proceedings are less traumatic for the child than is the adjustment process that follows.
The effects on older children and adolescents are less traumatic because youngsters of this age are more capable of expressing openly their feelings of hostility, anger, and bitterness.
The less involved these older children are in the actual divorce proceedings, the better they can handle the situation. They are also less likely to side with one parent against the other.
The pattern of engaging children as allies against the opposing parent undercuts the normal parent-child relationship. When both parents become less of a guardian and more of a companion or friend to the child, the youngster has lost not only one parent through the conflict, but two. The child’s greatest need at this point is a parent, not a companion. The more distant and removed the adolescent is from the trauma of the situation, the more stable the remaining family structure is likely to be and the better the child will perform.
Research has found that 25 to 50 per cent of children whose parents have divorced are seriously affected in their mood, functioning and development for one year after the event.
In the years that follow, they suffer from depression manifested in chronic and pronounced unhappiness, sexual promiscuity and delinquency.
It manifests in the form of drug abuse, petty stealing, alcoholism, poor learning, intense anger, apathy, restlessness, and a sense of intense, constant neediness. Other difficulties surface much later in life.
Divorce is difficult enough for adults. It has an even more devastating long-term effect on children. It is rarely ‘creative’ and almost always disastrous to everyone involved. When divorce seems inevitable despite all efforts to salvage the marriage, the parents should do everything possible to minimise the damage to the children. Avoid going through divorce proceedings during the first five years of your child’s life. Children are unfortunate pawns in divorce.