Parenting can be difficult under the best circumstances. During the divorce process, each parent is struggling to re-define themselves and restructure the family. This struggle can be intensified by pain, anger, and lack of knowledge regarding how to best support their children during the divorce process. Further, parenting skills can be compromised by legal issues, financial issues, parental disagreement, and parents’ personal issues. Successful navigation of divorce requires both individual and familial adjustment and healing.
Impact on the Individual
Divorcing individuals go through three stages in order to heal and move on. First, they must let go of the wounds of the past. This means letting go physically (e.g., no longer mowing former spouse’s lawn) and emotionally (e.g., no longer expecting emotional support from former spouse). The next stage is disengagement or being free to choose new partners and no longer feeling connected by love, desire, or anger. This often involves going through the grief process. Finally, individuals realign to their new role as single or co-parent. Proficient co-parents have equal accountability and equal worth, but may differ in specific responsibilities, therefore working together to best meet the needs of their children.
Impact on Children
The child’s age and stage of development influences how he/she will react to the news of divorce. Some common reactions include:
- Separation anxiety or clingy behavior
- Low frustration tolerance
- Eating and sleeping disturbances
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Physical complaints
Parental conflict is the single most harmful factor in children’s maladjustment to divorce.
According to Martson (1994), five requirements must be met to positively influence a child’s healthy adjustment and development during and after the separation of the family:
- Children must be shielded from their parents’ conflict.
- Children must be given permission to love both parents.
- Children must be able to maintain relationships with both parents without being caught in the middle of parental warfare.
- Parents must be able to realign their relationship from former spouses to co-parents.
- Parents must successfully cope with the effects of divorce and reconstruct their lives.