Despite the fact that nearly half of all American marriages end in divorce, the legal dissolution of a relationship still prompts hushed talk. When a divorce involves children, the hush underlines pity for the children. This is deeply problematic because, by making divorce a taboo subject, friends and family provide room for misconceptions to run rampant and almost no space at all for truth-telling.
READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Divorce and Kids
While this is bad for husbands and wives, it’s worse for kids who need honesty and parents armed with good information. In an effort to provide that information these are the biggest myths about kids in splitsville that parents need to divorce from their divorce.
Toddlers and Preschoolers Don’t Suffer as Much Trauma from Divorce
Popular wisdom suggests that divorcing before a kid can form adequate memories inoculates them from the worst of a divorce. If they can’t remember the hardship and the wrangling for custody, the argument suggests, then they are better off in the long run. But this idea misunderstands child development.
It’s possible that a child experiencing divorce within the first two years of life will be relatively well adjusted to their reality. But, by as young as two, children have the ability to build memory and sense that their foundations are shifting. They may not be able to understand the shift on a cognitive level, but they can certainly sense it on an emotional level. And, regardless of the age, divorce increases the likelihood of an emotionally traumatic even happening at some point. So, really, it’s less about age and more about acrimony.
It’s Okay for Divorced Parents to Have Different Rules for Kids
One of the more insidious problems of growing up with divorced parents is having different expectations depending on who is parenting on any given day. Without consistency, a kid is presented with loopholes and instability. Parents can start feeling slighted and conflict can increase.
The best way parents can raise a kid after a divorce is to enter into a state of co-parenting. That means expectations are consistent between households and so are consequences for running afoul of those expectations. So if a kid loses access to their tablet at their mother’s house, the access remains lost for the duration of the punishment, even if they are at their father’s house.
When discipline remains consistent, kids can feel like they’re on a better footing. It also means one parent doesn’t get to play the “fun parent” card to come off looking like a saint in the eyes of their kid.
Kids Do Better When Holidays Are Split in Half
At first blush, the idea of spending, say, a Christmas eve with a mom and a Christmas day with a dad seems like a completely equitable and reasonable way to do things. But the problem is that in splitting holidays down the middle, kids and parents are all given the short end of the candy cane.
The problem is that in moving a kid from one home to the other, during notoriously busy times for travel, the chaos of holidays is compounded. Consider the packing that needs to be done (and the newly unwrapped gifts that need to be packed too). Consider the airport security lines or crammed roads. Not to mention the unpacking and eventual settling down.
A ton of good hours can be lost in shifting from one place to another. And considering that time with kids can be a precious commodity for parents, it’s better to divide the holidays themselves in an equitable way and make the most of the hours provided by staying in one place.
The Best Way to Protect a Kid from Divorce is to Hide It
The problem with the idea that divorce should be kept from kids, particularly younger kids, is simple: Kids aren’t dumb.
Children can sense dynamic relationship shifts in their parents. They are even easier to recognize when a divorce includes a good deal of verbal and emotional conflict. Keeping a kid uniformed increases the likelihood that they will blame themselves for what happens. And that self-blame is linked to the fact that children are naturally egocentric.
The best way to approach a child about an impending divorce is as a united front. Both parents should offer an age-appropriate explanation. The primary point of the discussion should be that despite the separation of the parents, the kid is still deeply loved. Moreover, it should be stressed that the child is faultless and that they have done nothing wrong to prompt the decision.
It should go without saying, but this conversation should also be civil and free of the subtle barbs and backhanded comments. Again: Kids aren’t dumb.
The Biggest Concern for Children Experiencing Divorce is Their Emotional Health
For adults going through a divorce, there is a great deal of emphasis on their own emotional and mental health. It’s only fitting that they would lend the same concern to their children. But kids experiencing their parents’ divorce can also show surprising effects in the physical health as well.
Physical symptoms of the stress of divorce can include weight loss or loss of appetite, stomach problems, loss of sleep and even a compromised immune system. So while many divorcing parents may considering counseling for their child, it’s also a good idea to consider a trip to the pediatrician as well. After all, the adverse health effects can be felt well into adulthood, with some research suggesting that children of divorce have more colds and cases of flu even as grown-ups.
Babies Shouldn’t Stay Overnight with Divorced Dads
The default position for many divorced parents of younger children is for mothers to keep children overnight, with father visitations only occurring during the daytime. The thought is that by a kid spending nights with a father, maternal bonding could be damaged.
However, studies show that kids who have overnights with their divorced fathers as babies have much better outcomes later in life. This may not only be due to bonding. In fact being a regular part of a child’s nighttime and morning routine helps fathers become better parents. Even better, overnights with dad result in stronger future relationships not just with the father, but with the mother too.
Kids Should Always Know the Truth About a “Bad” Ex-Spouse
Honesty about a divorce is good for children. But it’s only good up to the extent that they understand where they will be going, why the family is changing, that the divorce is not their fault and that they are loved. Details, however, are necessary. That’s particularly true when it comes to crimes, affairs or any other malfeasance.
The fact is that a kid sees their parents as a part of themselves. They love them both regardless of the separation. When one parent tears down the other, a kid can feel like a part of themselves is being attacked. They may take on the anger and feel guilty for the actions of a parent they love.
In the worst case scenario, tearing down a spouse could drive a kid into a lousy parent’s arms as the kid gets older. Essentially that bad-mouthing can backfire. It’s better to trust that a kid will learn about their parents, driven by their own curiosity, in their own time. Eventually, they will be able to make up their own minds about how they feel about a “bad” parent.