Roles within a family and the early relationships we craft will impact us emotionally through the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, the relationship between two parents and divorce specifically can negatively affect the people that you both care about most, your children.
Divorce’s Emotional Impact on Family Roles
Typical family roles are changing, even without considering divorce as a primary factor in most relationships. The American Community Survey found in a 2009 study that only about 45.8% of children would make it to 17-years-old with their biological parents still married. That means that about half of children will live through the divorce of their parents.
Impacts of Divorce on Children
The driving concern for everyone involved in a divorce is the impact on the children. But, there’s more at play than who spends more time with whom. The emotional impact of children can vary wildly based on three aspects.
First, the relationship with each of the parents. If one child was always closer with their mother, then they may immediately, and completely of their own accord, see the other partner as the “bad guy.”
Second is the extent of the conflict. Have you and your partner reached a consensus that the marriage isn’t worth salvaging or that the damage is irreparable? Or, have you gone through months of screaming matches, cursing, throwing objects across the home and worse? The extent of the conflict can either show children that through emotional intelligence, you can end a bad relationship civilly or that a relationship must go through levels of toxicity before anyone can leave.
Third, the parent’s ability to focus on the child. Emotional intelligence goes through waves of development, but younger children are much more self-centered than grown adults. Without someone addressing their needs regularly, they’ll carry resentment for undelivered attention through their lives.
Considering the Situation
Emotional impact may vary based on the specifics of the divorce and the parent’s situation, but the need for emotional development doesn’t differ.
Major emotional milestones include:
- Experiencing embarrassment between ages 5 and 6.
- Awareness of others’ perceptions between ages 7 and 8.
- Identity development starting at age 9.
- Become introspective at age 11.
It’s easy to see how a generally uncomfortable or strained environment can impact all of these milestones. Emotionally, there are two consistent behaviors that children of divorce exhibit.
Both boys and girls express anger non-verbally and internalize distress. Usually, a child with parents going through a divorce will choose one of these patterns and stick with it. Children that regress to the non-verbal expression of anger will vandalize, fight, or start generally destructive habits. Children who internalize distress will often experience depression, poor gut health (from worry) and have severe changes to their eating and sleeping habits.
There are instances when a child removed from an emotionally neglectful or harmful situation will do better after the divorce.
The best way to reduce emotional distress is to help the child develop security in their relationship with any involved parent. That means the parents must uphold preset duties, make good on promises, and act civilly with the other parent.
Impacts of Divorce on Mothers
When evaluating family roles, much attention goes to the mother. However, it’s worth noting that women instigate the divorce more than twice as often as men do. When it comes to divorce handling, the role of the mother often changes.
Times have significantly impacted what people expect to deliver as the mother-role in a partnership. But, as the person likely to have started the divorce, and likely to be seeking full custody, they are often taking on a new and more authoritative role. Often when a divorce starts, they no longer seek approval of their spouse or discuss major decisions with them.
Mothers may realize that they now have to rely on the social system, child care, or child support and will have less anxiety over asking for help. Emotionally, mothers may thrive after a divorce finding relief from marital problems they may have lived with for years.
Impacts of Divorce on Fathers
In 2016 a study found that about 55% of divorce instigators blamed the other person, and if women are twice as likely to file for divorce that means that men are almost always stuck with the blame.
There are many negative physical effects that divorced dads are more likely to experience, but they also have emotional setbacks to face as well. Men are more likely to experience depression and anxiety after a divorce as their roles are often essentially removed. Their role as a father is most often confined to weekends where a father will often lose both respect and authority.
Time Spent Between Family Members
When you look at the typical family roles, of the parents and children, there’s a balance between child independent time, child time individually with parents and child time with both parents. These are all essential for a child’s development and can help define your role within the family unit. When a divorce happens, the time spent between family members skews. Often the child’s time spent independently and with an individual parent will increase significantly.
If a parent withdraws from a child’s life either intentionally or through court-ordered child custody, there is an emotional loss. However, it’s critical to consider that child custody cases often evaluate the whole of the child’s best interest and staving off harmful interactions can create the opportunity for better emotional and physical help.
Standard visitation may not provide the interaction that your child needs to maintain a quality relationship with the parent. It’s important to seek the help of a lawyer if you have concerns regarding the time that you’ll spend with your child.
As part of a custody arrangement, a judge will often consider the emotional ties between the parent and child during the decision making. A just will, of course, determine custody and visitation if the parents cannot reach an amicable resolution with a mediator.
The time spent between family members even as roles may change and ties may dissolve is vital for each person in this equation. Divorced parents can co-parent civilly in some situations; in others, it is best to involve an attorney rather than continuing any struggle at home.