Why is divorce difficult for children

When the separation / divorce is established and the adults try as best they can to cope with the new circumstances, children often feel overwhelmed by the unfamiliar situation. Mag. Christine Trausner, psychologist and emergency psychologist, regional management of Rainbows Styria, speaks of the changes that await them, their significance and the effects on the children.

The separation of the parents brings about a huge change in the living conditions for their children. Suddenly they lose their familiar structure and their security is threatened. The children now have two homes between which they have to commute. One with the mother, where they have to obey their rules, and one with the father, where his rules and structures apply. A big challenge for the child is to switch from one world to the other within a very short time. Children often react irritably and overly sensitive to commuting between these worlds.

Ideally, the child can share everyday life with both parents. Parents should let it be felt: we love you, we are there for you. It is also recommended that the parents talk to each other about the child. Because not infrequently, children of divorce have the feeling of being packages that are handed in without saying a word.

However, there are not all ideal cases. With the separation, the living conditions of the adults often also change. When a parent moves with the child to another city or even another country, the child not only loses the familiar family environment, but also the broader social environment. This means that the grief becomes even greater. The child not only mourns for the loved one, the parent whom it no longer sees every day, but also for the familiar life that it had to give up for the new and unfamiliar stranger. In any case, the separation means saying goodbye to familiar structures for the child. Not all children can handle it equally easily. Difficulties in school and poor performance due to concentration disorders are the consequences of changes in children's lives that are often observed. Physiological or psychosomatic reactions are also often observed in children of divorce. As a rule, a simple wish is hidden behind a child's illness: to see both parents at the bedside at the same time. This wish often accompanies the child for a long time. Even children asked years after the divorce often answer the question about their birthday wish with the words: "That mom and dad are together again".

Behavioral changes are another aspect that is typical of children of divorced parents.

Extroverts become introverted children or vice versa. Children often withdraw for fear of triggering new conflicts. "If I show how bad I am, mom will cry again." So to avoid further problems, children tend to over-adapt. The more such an attitude works, the more difficult it is for children to learn to openly show their feelings.

Although these behaviors are repeated in children of divorce, they cannot always be attributed solely to the fact of separation. Just as one cannot deduce the reason for child depression from insufficient contact with one of the parents. Children also have other resources in their lives that they can influence: friends, grandparents, acquaintances. Having stable relationships at this level will help the child cope better with their volatile domestic situation. These changes and the constant shift from one household to another do not always have to be negative. The flexibility and tolerance that this creates can be beneficial in later life and relationships. The likelihood of taking on what one knows at home, i.e. of getting a divorce later, remains increased, but the blame for the broken relationships of the children of divorce cannot only be attributed to their family situation.