“Stay together for the kids.” That’s the advice often given to people who are contemplating divorce. However, this conventional wisdom is not always what holds true.
While there are plenty of studies out there that report negative outcomes for children of divorce, studies in the past three decades have found that divorce can actually improve children’s lives in the short term and long term. This is especially true for children who live in a high-conflict situation with their biological parents. Filing for divorce can alleviate some of the stressors that living in a high-conflict household may present to children and any other loved ones.
In this article, we cover six reasons why a divorce can actually sometimes be a positive, healthy experience for your children.
Improved Well-Being of Parents
Children pick up on stress. And if you are in an unhappy marriage, there is likely plenty of stress to go around. Children can sense when something is also not right between their parents. Even though the process of divorce is very stressful, just the mere actions of filing for divorce may leave you relieved and eager for a fresh start.
Divorce is a long and oftentimes arduous process that can take more than a year in some cases to finish, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Filing for divorce and knowing that there may be an eventual end to the conflictual nature of your relationship does provide some people with that instant relief.
If you have a mental health shift just by starting the process, that shift is likely to transfer to your children as well. Children model their parents’ behavior. Therefore, if they see you angry and anxious, they will begin to mirror that. When they see a burden lifted from your shoulders as you start the divorce process, they will feel much more relaxed and receptive to starting a new life.
According to a 2013 article published in Scientific American, in one way or another, divorce affects most children in the short term, but research suggests that children recover rapidly after the initial information and sharing from parents that they have started the divorce process.
In a 2002 study, University of Virginia psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington and her then-graduate student found that many children experience short-term negative effects from divorce, especially anxiety, anger, and disbelief. However, their research found these reactions typically diminish or disappear by the end of the second year after the process has begun.
Also, a meta-study conducted by Cambridge University professor Michael Lamb, “Mothers, Fathers, Families, and Circumstances: Factors Affecting Children’s Adjustment,” found that children do well when they have solid relationships with both parents. However, it’s not necessary for the parents to live in the same house. It is important through any divorce process for parents to have solid and open relationships with their children so that there is an open line of communication between them.
Finally, a study conducted on the same parents and children between 1987 and 2002, by Montclair State University Associate Professor Constance Gager, concluded that children who lived in high-conflict homes went on to have better marriages and cohabiting partnerships if their parents ended up getting divorced.
Therapy Can Help Children Cope With Divorce
Not all children suffer from the divorce process. Children are resilient and adapt well if given the proper tools to do so. However, some children will suffer longer, but they are in the minority. Something that can be helpful in the short and long term is enrolling your children in therapy to help them navigate the divorce process and what will eventually become a permanent change in their daily lives.
Closer Relationships with Each Parent
Divorce is stressful no matter who you are or how your marriage was. Your relationship with your child may take a backseat as you cope with the struggles attached to ending a marriage. However, you’ll likely have more energy when all is said and done especially if you are escaping a marriage that was high conflict. Plus, your children will have the opportunity to spend time with you independently. This is an opportunity to strengthen your bond together and help your child build emotional stability.
Learning Healthy Boundaries
After the divorce is final, you and your ex will still need to communicate and co-parent effectively for your children’s sake. This will require redefining your relationship dynamic, which is a prime opportunity to model what healthy boundary setting looks like. This is also an opportunity to put your differences aside and continue to build your parenting relationship for the benefit of your children.
Children with divorced parents often understand complex emotional concepts at a younger age than their peers. If your children witness you and their other parent setting limits in a respectful way, they can understand that all conflict need not result in harsh words or name-calling.
Whether you are a stay-at-home parent who expects to have to rejoin the workforce after divorce or a breadwinner who anticipates having to pay spousal maintenance and child support, it will certainly take some time to get your life to a place that seems to be an ideal space for the future.
From managing your new financial dynamic to juggling life as a single parent, you will have to adjust and navigate that adjustment and growth. However, your children will also be on this journey with you, and this can be an opportunity for them to shine and create a more positive relationship with their parents and siblings.
After divorce, children often need to help out more around the home, from picking up after themselves to preparing easy-to-make meals and doing their own laundry. While it may sound like a lot of pressure for children, learning these skills will give them confidence and encourage them to try doing things on their own and learn a sense of accomplishment.
Increased Empathy for Others
Divorce is tough for everyone. But when children see their parents struggle during the divorce process, it often gives them a greater capacity for empathy toward other people. They can become more accepting of the various problems other people experience throughout their lives.
This process can also teach children vulnerability and understanding that you should always do what is right for you so that you can be there for your loved ones. Sometimes doing what is right for you personally is taking that step forward to end a marriage.
Talk With a Divorce Attorney
If you are thinking about divorce for your or your children’s sake, we can help. Call 303-688-0944 to begin your free case assessment with a member of R&H’s award-winning Family Law Team.