Resiliency in Kids After Divorce
People love to say kids are resilient, but are they? Or do we use that comforting cliché’ to assuage our own guilt in the upheaval our divorce causes in our children’s lives? If that phrase is true, why do so many adults spend years in therapy (or in destructive habits and patterns) trying to recover from the first 18 years of their lives?
Divorce is a life-altering event for kids. Even in difficult marriages, almost all children would prefer that their parents stay married. Sometimes divorce is inevitable, and in a high-conflict marriage, can even be beneficial in the long term. The truth is that children can recover from divorce but that resiliency isn’t an inherent trait, an ability that comes simply from being young. Resiliency can be attained, but not without effort. According to the book Putting Children First by JoAnne Pedro-Carroll, Ph.D, resiliency is an ongoing recovery process that requires the support of parents and other involved adults assisting them in adjusting to the changing family structure. The adjustment may take longer and be more difficult depending on a child’s individual temperament. Resiliency does NOT mean the child won’t still have painful memories and emotions. The breakup of a family is distressing for a child and those emotions must be dealt with through open communication, allowing the child to express his feelings and have his questions answered honestly.
Other factors that positively affect a child’s resiliency: low conflict between parents post-divorce, support of other adults such as grandparents and teachers, peer support, healthy sibling relationships and structure and routine in the home. The level of conflict between parents post- divorce appears to be one of the main factors in a child’s recovery process. In a study of college students whose parents had been divorced at least ten years, Journal of Family Pyschology, reported that the students with the strongest feelings of emotional pain and distress were those whose parents had the highest level of conflict post-divorce.
I know many people like to believe that their divorce really won’t affect their kids but that is a self-soothing fallacy. Although sometimes divorce is the right choice, it is impossibly naïve to believe that the children will not be impacted. Divorce is stressful for everyone involved and adults need to assist in helping children adapt to the changes. If handled correctly, kids can survive and even thrive, learning to adapt to challenges and changes. But it doesn’t magically happen. We need to be their guides and help them navigate the emotions and changes inherent in divorce.