A divorce can be perceived as both a blessing or a curse, depending on the quality of the marriage that has ended. For children, divorce can be as devastating as a death of a loved one. Children are left with significant changes after a divorce that usually include new or altered living arrangements and the challenge of living with only one of their parents. After the children involved in a divorce have processed their grief for the loss of the family they had relied on as stable, one or both parents may eventually be faced with introducing a new relationship to the kids.
Children go through several stages of divorce, each with its own effects. The initial stage, the emotional stage, is characterized by largely expected reactions such as anger, sadness, resentment and at times, hatred, according to North Carolina State University in the online publication "Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children." Younger children appear more affected emotionally for a shorter period than older children, because older children are more aware of the severity of the situation and the finality of a divorce. Other potential effects on children of divorce include economic stress, the degree to which the child had been involved in the conflict between parents, and feelings of loss and abandonment for the parent who isn’t going to be the one with legal custody.
In addition to emotional effects, divorce can lead to behavioral problems that tend to be temporary in children. These include temper tantrums, bed wetting, defiant behavior, nightmares and a tendency to be excessively attached or "clingy" with one parent. Like emotional problems, behavioral problems in children vary by age and by other factors such as the number of siblings and how involved the child was in the parents’ conflicts before to the divorce. Most of the behavioral problems are associated with a child feeling that he is experiencing a sense of a loss of security.
It is important to delay introducing a new relationship to your children until you have been divorced for approximately two years, because this allows the children to adjust to the divorce, changes in living arrangements and the loss of a permanent parent, according to Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D., in "Introducing Your Child to Your New Partner” as cited on Dads Online. It is also important to gradually introduce a new relationship into activities that include your children. Before introducing a new person to your children, Favaro suggests that you discuss with your children about your new relationship, and that you reassure that the children’s other parent is not being replaced.
The effects of a divorce can cause significant emotional turmoil in a child that can lead to a feeling of a lack of security and fears that one or both parents will abandon them. Ideally, the children should be the primary concern, particularly because they will go through the stages of grieving, including anger, bargaining, denial and finally, acceptance. Providing ample time for your children to adjust after the divorce can also allow you time to spend with them to provide reassurance of stability, albeit in a different way. After life has returned to relative stability and you begin to date, rushing into introducing a new relationship to your kids is counterintuitive.
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- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: The Effects of Divorce on Children
- American Psychological Association: An Overview of the Psychological Literature on the Effects of Divorce on Children
- Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D.: Dads Online: Introducing Your Child To Your New Partner
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children
Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.
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