A divorce is a serious event that traumatizes all family members. At the same time, it is a complicated process that requires thinking about many things, great and small, from who will take the TV set in the living room to how alimony will be arranged, to who will live in the current home. During this process, no matter what the reasons for the divorce are, both partners are affected and feel pain to some degree. However, when their ages and what they are losing are considered, it is the children that hurt the most during this process.
Especially during the preschool years, a divorce is totally incomprehensible to a child. The child becomes confused. He (or she) thinks he will have to choose between his father and mother. He cannot comprehend the idea that his mother and father that he has seen together since he was born will be living in different homes. He gets the idea that his mother or father is leaving because of the naughty things he has done. Among the arguments experienced during the period before the divorce, the fights with the dosage increasing day by day, the conflicts and confrontations, sometimes the needs of the child are ignored. He starts thinking that nobody loves him, nobody thinks of him.
During the divorce process, children may display petulance, moroseness, behavioral and adaptation disorders. Anger and aggression may be witnessed. At the same time, tendency to establish a dependent relationship with the parent, clinging and separation issues may arise. These behaviors and symptoms may differ with the age of the child, how much he has been distressed during the pre-divorce period, and the quality of the relationship he experiences with his parents after the divorce.
In spite of all these, it is not inevitable for a divorce to irreversibly affect the psychology of the child, or for some problems with the child to be solely the result of the divorce. As mentioned before, the degree this process affects the child depends basically on the attitude of the parents. Before the divorce, it is important that the parents tell the child of the decision together. The child must be told clearly that this decision has nothing to do with him, and that both his mother and his father love and value him greatly. The child must know that he can see the parent he won’t be living with whenever he wants, and that living with one does not mean giving up the other. However, the knowledge that his parents know and understand his unhappiness and distress about the situation will make the child feel better.
Attitudes, words and actions related to the other parent are just as important as what is told the child. If the child is the focus of a power struggle between the parents, if one or both of the parents maligns the other parent to the child, if the child is used for hate and revenge, or if the child is used to settle unfinished accounts, the child will suffer even more, and his self-confidence will be hurt even more. Another important point is that the child should have a permanent home. In order to deal with all that’s happening, the child must have order around him. This order can only be achieved by a permanent home and regular and frequent contact with the other parent.
Divorce is a difficult process. For the child to go through this process with a minimum of damage is only possible through the efforts of the parents. In order for the child to continue life as a “normal” child, the parents must see him as one, and behave accordingly. Pitying the child and therefore protecting him excessively, giving him everything he wants and not drawing any boundaries is the worst thing that can be done to a child. In the end, as a spouse, it is possible to live in separate homes and to bring all contact to a minimum, but it is not possible to divorce children. In this respect, the main thing is to accept the other parent as the ex-spouse and the mother/father of one’s child, and to evaluate all details within this framework.
Clinical Psychology Specialist Aslı Soyer