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The Significance of Divorce

Although separation and divorce are common, they are not a "normal" experi­ence for anyone, particularly for children. No matter how amicable the di­vorce, children still view it as a loss when their families are torn apart. On rare occasions—for example, when one parent is physically or emotionally abusive toward the other parent and/or toward the children themselves—youngsters may welcome the divorce. But in the majority of cases children do not want their parents to separate.

Most child-health professionals believe that divorce is preferable to an em­bittered, conflict-ridden marriage, which can take a terrible toll upon children. On the other hand, few children will experience their parents' relationship as one of continuing bliss, and children develop normally in a household where they feel loved and where parents are at least respectful of one another. Re­gardless of the circumstances that lead to the decision of parents to divorce, it is a major disruption in the lives of children. Their initial emotional re­sponses may vary: Younger children often describe sadness as their main re­action; older children say they are angry. Almost all have experienced a breach of faith and have a fear of what the future will hold.

For most children, the quality of their parents' marital relationship and the experience of their divorce colors their view of relationships and family for years to come. When they become young adults, some of these youngsters ex­perience problems with relationships that they relate to their early life expe­rience within the family of their childhood.

There are, however, actions that divorcing and divorced parents can take to minimize the trauma their children experience, assist them in adapting to their new circumstances, and help them achieve happy and satisfying relationships throughout their lives. If you are divorced, despite the difficulties you and your ex-spouse are going through, remember that though you no longer share a marriage, you continue to share parenthood. If the two of you, alone or with professional help, can put aside your marital conflicts and get on with your lives, your children will probably fare all right over the long term. The most important predictor of a child's long-term adjustment to divorce is the way his parents adapt to their separation—specifically that the divorce ends the dis­cord the child was experiencing.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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