Disclosure: Divorce is an immensely complicated and emotional topic. The author of this article does not include all concerns which couples encounter nor does he advocate the dissolution of any marriage. The author’s intent is to provide advice and be helpful.
No matter the circumstances, divorce is a monumental act. Even when conducted in the “best” of scenarios, divorce is emotionally demanding, messy, nerve-wracking, time-consuming, and very expensive. It consumes one’s life in all aspects. But—in framing the experience of divorce here—chances are, we think of the impact on adults.
Now, consider the impact on children.
What about kids who have been adopted? This is when divorce becomes enormously complicated.
The Adult’s Experience Vs The Child’s Experience:
The short and long-term effects which fighting, parent schedules, child hand offs, endless texting (interruptions), and introductions of “new people” have on the mind and emotions of your child are hard to gauge, but rest assured, they are numerous and deep. As adults, we are able to process some of the stress by virtue of being older (and some degree, willing) participants in the matter. We have learned coping mechanisms; we have learned to compartmentalize certain areas of our lives so we can function.
Children haven’t been exposed to such complex issues and means of living yet, and all of a sudden many adults expect their kids to “cope”?
Divorce upends lives, emotionally and literally. For a child 3 to 12 years old, divorce causes even more residual trauma. Going through a divorce exacts an enormous amount of life stress and life changes, all of which will change your child and the trajectory of his or her life. As parents, we have the luxury of saying that “divorcing was for the best,” while our children are left in the middle. Even while actively processing your separation and divorce on their own, your children are still going to be confused even if one or both parents tell them clearly (patiently or in anger) that you are divorcing.
As a couple, you were forged together, only now to be divided. If your child grew up in a married home with the two of you together, seeing you break up and live separately is, quite frankly, foreign. It is grounds for trauma, despite the fact that over 50% of marriages fail. While fully appreciative that some marriages are not destined to stay together, we must still recognize the emotional toll that a child faces, seeing his or her parents split up. Growing up, your child has seen you as parents, together, even when arguing and you’re not at your best. Now you are splitting. Literally. That’s big. The more you come to grips with this concept, the more you can help your child understand her point of view.
Children do not view what is happening in the same terms as adults do, so we should never assume we are thinking the same way or processing the same way. Just because you may be experiencing certain emotions does not mean your kids are (or at the same time).
Foster Adoption – For children who have been adopted from the foster care system, divorce can bring up past trauma of transience. Divorce puts a child back into a state of emotional and physical uncertainty, due to “back and forth” between homes. The parents (and social worker, if involved) should talk with the child about what will happen. The emotional impact on the child alone cannot be understated. What about any legal ramifications with the adoption?
Adoption – In adopting, the goal was to raise a child in a stable, loving home life. Divorce has rendered this plan obsolete. There could be deep emotional ramifications for your child(ren) regarding loss of family, moving (if need be), new friends, anxiety.
Notion of Family – You (and your soon to be former spouse) represented “family” to your child. With the divorce (and possible limited contact from the birth mother or any siblings), the concept or idea of “family” could be seriously shaken. This should be discussed with child and possibly a therapist.
Siblings – If during the course of your adoption, you identified blood siblings or family of your child, to the best that you both can, ensure that traditions and relationships endure. These will help ease the pain and stress of the divorce. For example, if during the marriage, it was common for you all to hang out, create new ways to include your former spouse so he or she can still be a part of the new dynamic. No one wants to be left out. Again, it’s all about the kids and their happiness.
Some Good Tips for Navigating Divorce:
- Keep the focus on the kids.
- Never argue in front of the kids.
- Have your child meet with school counselors, teachers, or a therapist (if need be) to discuss his feelings and family events. He needs an emotional outlet to feel safe and know that it’s okay to process what’s going on.
- Your child will need to understand (and process) the divorce on her own terms, on her own time. He will need to understand how mommy and daddy are going to live, but also reconcile any feelings concerning loss (of family or what could have been). This will not happen overnight. This is a process.
- Rebuild. Focus on you (in your spare time). This will help you do better for yourself, your child, and your relations with your former spouse.
See the bigger picture:
You may be in a heated or angry disagreement with your former spouse, but both of you should strive to create harmonious events for your child. The emotional well-being and happiness of your kids are paramount.
It’s about them. Their fun. Their emotional stability. Onward. Upward.