Whether or not you were the spouse who initiated a divorce, you certainly didn’t plan on ending up here when you got married. And when you started your family, you probably did not picture your child ending up with divorced parents. You likely pictured having an intact family, with parents sharing a love that lasts a lifetime.Yet somehow you have found yourself in a situation you never planned, facing the reality that both you and your children must learn to cope with life after divorce. Surviving divorce when you’re the one with a broken marriage is heartbreaking enough, but facing the reality of its impact on your children adds more layers of pain and fear.
When considering the end of a marriage, a significant percentage of your concerns have probably revolved around your children’s welfare. If your parents split up when you were young, you may be all too familiar with divorce and children, having lived through it yourself. But even if your parents are still married, you’ve likely heard a lot of scary statistics about what happens to kids when their parents’ marriage ends.
The truth is that divorce does increase risks for adverse outcomes for kids, but that’s not the end of the story. Statistics don’t sentence your child to a life of hopelessness after surviving their parents’ divorce. Here are the realities about helping kids with life after divorce, and how you can facilitate both their healing and your own. You don’t have to handle coping with divorce on your own.
Statistics on Divorce
According to current statistics, the estimated divorce rate in the United States is between 40% and 50%. While this number seems shockingly high, it is also true that the divorce rate has been declining over the past several years, possibly due to the millennial generation’s approach to marriage being different than in generations past.
Regardless, divorce still affects millions of families every year, including Christian families. An oft-quoted statistic about Christian divorce says that Christian couples split up at an even higher rate than their non-believing peers. Is this true?
Christianity Today has reported that research does point to conservative Christian couples being more likely to divorce than unbelieving couples. But, when you factor in church attendance, or questions like, “Is God at the center of your marriage?” the rates fall drastically, suggesting that nominal Christians tend to divorce at higher rates, but church-attending, actively religious couples do not.
Women initiate divorce more often than men do, and common causes include conflict over finances, a lack of commitment, infidelity, substance abuse issues, or domestic violence, including physical or emotional abuse.
How Divorce Affects Kids
If you’re facing a divorce or you’ve already been through one, your kids have probably been one of the biggest concerns in your mind. We know that divorce generally has negative effects on children. According to Verywell Mind, kids who live in intact families are reported to be between 20% and 35% physically healthier than kids who do not live with an intact family.
Divorce seems to have various risks for children’s emotional health as well. Teenagers who live with a single parent or in a blended family showed a 300% greater likelihood of needing psychological help than teens who lived with intact families.
Divorce increases the risk of economic problems, mental health problems, risk-taking behavior, and suicide. It can also influence academic outcomes. Teens who come from divorced homes are twice as likely to drop out of high school as those who do not.
Some of the negative outcomes from divorce for kids are based on the way divorce affects their parents. Adults who divorce are at increased risk for substance use disorders, anxiety and depression, and problems maintaining a work/life balance. These issues will, of course, influence their parenting and can impact their children’s quality of life.
On a more positive note, Scientific American reports that some research has shown most negative outcomes for kids tend to resolve within the first two years after the divorce, but on the other hand, some problems do not arise until late adolescence or adulthood.
Hope for Children of Divorce
If you’ve gone through a divorce, all of those statistics may seem incredibly discouraging, but they are just the background of the story. There is hope. There are ways to increase your child’s chances of a positive outcome. Keep reading to find out more about how you can best walk with your child through this painful time in their life.
Helping Your Children Cope with Divorce
According to Scientific American and Psychology Today, there are specific, evidence-based steps parents can take to help ensure their child navigates post-divorce waters without major issues. Here are some key actions to focus on:
Keep conflict to a minimum, and hidden from children. Keeping the stress of direct conflict away from kids helps maintain a peaceful and predictable environment so they feel more secure. Never put kids in the middle of a conflict.
Discuss the divorce clearly and be willing to answer questions. This doesn’t mean talking to children like adults who can understand the details, and it also doesn’t mean talking badly about the other parent. It means being willing to explain what’s happening on a level they can understand. Establish that the topic is not off-limits. Always be willing to help them understand what’s happening. Be a good listener and invite kids to open up.
If you have primary custody, make sure that you are as physically and emotionally healthy as possible and that you have a support system in place. The healthier you are, the better parent you can be. Work to establish social support for both you and your children.
Practice authoritative parenting. As opposed to authoritarian parenting, which focuses on strict rules, and permissive parenting, which doesn’t set necessary boundaries, authoritative parenting sets reasonable expectations and provides reasonable consequences for not meeting them, while remaining highly responsive to the child’s emotional needs and focused on their well-being. Authoritative parenting includes providing structure and healthy routines.
Be polite and cooperative with your ex as much as possible. Take the high road, set boundaries around when you will respond to communication, and set a good example for your kids.
Neil Farber writes, “Having a supportive adult in their lives gives children the best chance of continuing to develop without problems.” Be that supportive person for your children, and you will greatly increase their chances of a positive outcome following divorce.
Also, give the situation time to improve. It will likely get better after the first year or two. Don’t hesitate to get counseling for both yourself and your children. Friends and family offer invaluable support, but they aren’t able to provide the volume of structured listening and evidence-based therapy that a professional counselor can.
Hope for Christians in Divorce
Divorce can be a very isolating experience, particularly a Christian divorce. You might feel completely alone or stigmatized by the way others think of your divorce. These emotions point to why it’s so important to take the initiative to find a good support system. You can start with a Christian counselor who can be your sounding board and walk you through healthy coping mechanisms and parenting strategies.
Focus on the input you are giving yourself, so you can provide the best output for your children. Constantly improve your parenting skills, and know that it is never too late to increase your child’s possibility of a good outcome.
God is bigger than divorce, and he can work in your child’s heart and life despite, or even because of, their painful experiences. He is the God who creates beauty from ashes, even though it can be hard to see that in the midst of dark times.
As you grow stronger, you will be better able to provide your child with examples of kindness, maturity, resilience, and compassion. Remember that first, you are your child’s parent, not simply their friend.
Walk in freedom and not guilt as you navigate life and parenting after divorce. Seek out encouragement and ensure your child knows he or she is loved and has many people rooting for him or her. And know that you are never alone.
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