I often hear concerns from parents considering divorce, and about how it will affect their children. In a broad overview, this is what the research tells us:
1. Generally, divorce puts children at a two to three times greater risk for developing many kinds of problems, such as insomnia or acting out through sex or drugs.
2. Despite the greater risk, most children do not experience those problems. Most children are resilient and return to a fairly normal life, two to three years after the divorce.
3. Many of the problems that children experience after a divorce were present before the divorce. This may include depression or neglect from parents.
4. The research also shows that children in high-conflict homes are generally better off if their parents divorce compared to children whose parents stay married in high-conflict situations.
5. Children in low-conflict homes do worse than if the parents stayed together and tried to work things out.
6. Divorce can effect the development of children. This includes physical, social, emotional, educational, moral and spiritual development.
7. Once children who came from homes with divorce become adults, they are two to three times more likely to experience divorce compared to those who did not come from a divorced home.
A good question to consider is 'how do your children view your marriage?' Are they aware of your relationship problems? If your divorce is completely unexpected to them, there is a greater likelihood that the divorce will be a difficult transition. It is also important to think about what changes they will personally have to go through. Does this mean a change in their school, friends, or access to extended family members? Are your children flexible and adaptive in new situations? Do they have good social skills? These are all characteristics of resilient children.
Your parenting and the relationship you maintain with your former spouse are the most important elements in how well your children will adapt to the transition of a divorce. How involved will you be with your children post-divorce? How well will you continue to co-parent with your ex? Will you be speaking positively of them to your children?
If you would like to read more about this topic, I recommend the following books:
'For Better or Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, Surprising Results from the Most Comprehensive Study of Divorce in America', by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly.
'The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25-year Landmark Study', by Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee.
'The Truth about Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions, So You and and Your Children Can Thrive', by Robert E. Emery.