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HELP FOR THE FAMILY | PARENTING

How Divorce Affects Children

Some spouses who cannot seem to get along with each other tell themselves that divorce will be better for their children—certainly better than living with two contentious parents. What do the facts show?

 What are the effects of divorce on children?

Research shows that the effects of divorce on children are devastating. Children of divorce are more likely to:

  • experience anger, anxiety, and depression

  • develop behavioral problems

  • fall behind in school or drop out

  • be more prone to illness

In addition, many children blame themselves for the divorce, thinking that they either caused it or could have prevented it.

The difficulties that children of divorce face may continue into adulthood, where they are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and an inability to trust others. They are also more likely to divorce when they have their own marital problems.

The bottom line: Although some people considering divorce tell themselves that it will be better for the children, research does not support that claim. “Divorce makes children miserable,” writes childcare expert Penelope Leach. *

Bible principle: “Look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”—Philippians 2:4.

 Will my child be happier if I am divorced?

Some people would say yes. Keep in mind, though, that the needs of the parent and the needs of the child are usually not the same. The person considering divorce wants a new life. The child usually wants to cling to the one that he or she has with Dad and Mom together.

After examining thousands of divorces, the authors of the book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce wrote: “One message is clear: the children do not say they are happier. Rather, they say flatly, ‘The day my parents divorced is the day my childhood ended.’” The book adds that they see the world as “a far less reliable, more dangerous place because the closest relationships in their lives can no longer be expected to hold firm.”

The bottom line: Children are unlikely to feel happy after their parents divorce.

Bible principle: “A crushed spirit saps one’s strength.”—Proverbs 17:22.

 What should I know about co-parenting?

Some divorced people try to mimic a two-parent family as much as possible, thinking that they can share equally in the duties of raising their child. However, co-parenting is difficult. Research shows that divorced spouses often:

  • spend less time with their children

  • teach conflicting standards

  • yield to the children because of guilt or exhaustion

A child of divorce could also become prone to rejecting parental authority. After all, his or her parents failed to hold on to values such as commitment or trust or sticking to agreements. ‘Why listen to them?’ the child might reason.

The bottom line: Co-parenting is usually difficult for divorced spouses. But for children, the situation is even more difficult.

Bible principle: “Do not be irritating your children, so that they do not become discouraged.”Colossians 3:21, footnote.

 Is there a better option?

Often, the effort spouses must put into life after divorce would be better spent working to preserve the marriage. “The bad marriage is nowhere near as permanent a condition as we sometimes assume,” says the book The Case for Marriage. “With time, the marriages of most unhappy couples who stay married get much, much happier.” All things considered, children thrive best when their parents stay together.

This does not mean that divorce is never an option. In fact, the Bible allows for divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality. (Matthew 19:9) However, the Bible also says that “the shrewd one ponders each step.” (Proverbs 14:15) Husbands and wives in a troubled marriage should take all factors into consideration—including the effects that divorce will have on their children.

Of course, more might be required than just sticking it out. The Bible provides the best advice to help husbands and wives develop the qualities needed for an enduring and happy marriage. That is not surprising, since the Author of the Bible, Jehovah, created the marriage arrangement.—Matthew 19:4-6.

Bible principle: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself.”—Isaiah 48:17.

^ par. 16 From the book Your Growing Child—From Babyhood Through Adolescence.