Children grow with their families and learn from them. In a way, they behave the way their parents instilled in them. Divorce, which is becoming more and more common today, affects not only parents but also children with all its seriousness. When their parents want to end their relationship and get a divorce, it is unexpected for children and they don’t know how to react. During and after the divorce process, children may have difficulty coping with this situation. Each child experiences and reacts differently in this process.
· How has the process of divorce and the work done have changed from past to present?
Looking at the history of studies on divorce, most of the early research on divorce belongs to the United States. While divorce cases started to increase in the 1960s, studies on the post-divorce process also increased. While the subject was ‘reasons for divorce’ in the 1970s-1980s, as a result of the significant increase in divorce rates in the 1990s, the subject turned into ‘the effects of divorce on children. Similarly, significant increases were observed in divorce rates in Turkey. According to the State Institute of Statistics, divorce rates have started to increase since the early 1990s.
In addition, in the 20th century, the perspective on family began to change. Until the 20th century, most women had to give birth due to social pressures, but later this turned into personal preference. Unlike traditional patriarchal families, modern families focus on their children’s future. They adjust their time zone according to their children. They support their children financially and morally. After all these changes in the family structure, the emotional value of children has increased compared to the past.
· Do I know enough about how to make this process positive for my child?
Divorce is a shocking, complex and even shocking event that affects every member of the family. Undoubtedly, the most affected by divorces are children. Because after the divorce, the environment in which children live will change completely. Because after the divorce, the child cannot continue to see his mother or father as he is used to. However, it can be said that divorce is a better solution than family miscommunication and conflicts that do not positively affect the mental health of children and parents. According to research, children who are exposed to loud cries from their parents, witness conflicts, or are physically abused may be more maladaptive than children whose parents are divorced. So sometimes divorce can be a better solution for everyone.
Postponing a divorce for the sake of children sometimes doesn’t work. Problems caused by the union may upset the child more. Divorce does not only have negative consequences on children’s mental health. As Alegöz and Tekin (2017) describe, it is seen that divorce can also lead to positive results. For example; Seeing conflicts come to an end, having better relationships with both parents, or having less contact with the troubled parent has a positive impact on children’s mental health.
· How can I explain the divorce process to my child?
The first step in this difficult process is to tell children about divorce. Some parents may find it unnecessary to report the divorce because of the age of the children. However, no child can understand the sudden disappearance of a parent, whether he loves his parents or hates his parents. The situation should be explained to the children in a language that the child can understand and at least 1 week beforehand. Such behavior can make children think of abandonment. Because when the issue of divorce is brought up to children, there will be many questions to be answered. When the parents are informed of the divorce on the same day that the parents separated, the children may not have enough time to get answers to their questions. If the child does not have enough time to express his feelings, he may experience problems such as depression and attention deficit in the future.
Bilir and Dabanlı (1981) found that the age group most affected by divorce is the 5-6 age group. They also stated that the gender of the children was an important factor for this situation. Studies have shown that girls aged 5-6 and boys aged 8-10 are more affected by divorce than their peers. According to Huure, Junkari, and Aro (2006), if the divorce process of their parents is not carried out sufficiently well, girls experience more relational problems in their lives, while boys experience behavioral problems (p. 256-263). Daughters experience psychological and relational problems due to the unhealthy divorce of their parents. They can be insatiable and hesitant in their relationships. Also, men show signs of social adjustment, express their feelings through fighting, show anger towards people who want to take care of them.
· When should I give my child the news of the divorce?
To talk about the short-term effects of divorce on children, the first 2 years are critical. Generally, there is a negative process after the divorce, but 6-12 months after the event, the effects of the divorce begin to decrease and the orientation process for the children begins. The first feelings children experience after divorce are unhappiness and shock. There is also a feeling of loneliness and anger towards parents.
Huuren et al. (2006) found that divorce also has long-term effects on children (p.256-263). In this study, adults whose parents were divorced during their childhood and adults whose parents were together in their childhood were compared. The average age of the participants is 32. As a result, it has been determined that women who experience unhealthy parental divorce have more psychological problems than other women. Additionally, they experience problems in their relationships. People with divorced parents have lower incomes, more unemployment problems and more physical health problems than the other group.
· I had an argument with my wife while my child was with me, how will this affect my child?
Parents should not say bad things about each other and should not project post-divorce problems onto children. In particular, custody issues can negatively affect children’s efforts to adapt to divorce. It should be ensured that the children meet with the parent living separately from the children and the communication between the children and the parents should be maintained. The most important thing to consider is that negative feelings or thoughts between parents are not passed on to children. It should be said that children do not have to choose one of their parents. Gardner (1985) defines ‘Parental Separation Syndrome’ as a separation between the child and the other partner when one partner influences the child badly about the other partner. And this is emotional abuse. It can cause problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in children.
· To sum up, what should we pay attention to in this process?
Ø It is clear that parental relationships are extremely important in the lives of their children. Divorce of parents is a very difficult process in the life of children. In this difficult process, the behavior of the children’s parents will be very important for the children.
Ø Many studies examining the effects of divorce on children have revealed that children whose parents are divorced in poor health experience more problems than children whose parents do not divorce.
Ø Some negative and serious reactions can be seen in children who are faced with the divorce of their parents. Each child reflects the situation differently, but there are some common reactions, such as psychological and behavioral problems. Some of these reactions are skepticism and dissatisfaction in relationships; quarrel and anger; unhappiness; shock and loneliness; unemployment problems, low income and physical health problems; depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you are going through the divorce process and want to conclude this process in the most appropriate way for your child, or if you think that the divorce process has negatively affected your child or if you observe the mentioned reactions in your child, you can get support from our expert staff.
Specialist Clinical Psychologist Damla Kankaya
Psychology Student Yaren Gönülcan