Divorce doesn’t just affect the two parties involved – the individuals’ families and friends must also deal with the stress, confusion, and changes that come with spousal separation. This is even more true for the children of divorcing parents. When two parents get divorced, kids’ lives get turned upside down. The things that once provided stability and assurance no longer seem secure, so it is crucial that parents consider their children’s needs throughout every step of the divorce process.
At Burrows Law Group, we place a high priority on the mental and emotional well-being of people going through divorce – especially children. That’s why we have an in-house counselor, Jessica Burrows, who is available to our clients to assist with guiding and advising clients on how to protect their children during the divorce proceedings.
Jessica has a Bachelor of Psychology from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Counseling from Dallas Baptist University, with an emphasis on adolescents who were victims of sexual abuse. Currently, she is working on her Ph.D. in Family Studies at Texas Woman’s University, where her focus is on life transitions and how the family impacts the success of overcoming difficult changes. Jessica is also the owner and Clinic Director of NextGen Counseling, PLLC in Flower Mound, a center that focuses on teens and young adult mental health services. Jessica’s warm approach to therapy helps build an environment where healing from divorce and other struggles can take place. We spoke to her about how children are affected by divorce and what parents can do to make things easier on their kids.
IN WHAT WAYS ARE CHILDREN MOST AFFECTED BY DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS? Young children often struggle to understand why they must go between two homes. They may worry that if their parents can stop loving one another, that someday their parents may stop loving them. As a therapist that specializes in working with young children, I see extensive anxiety and stress during divorce proceedings that affect their academic functioning. Grade school children may worry that the divorce is their fault. They may fear they misbehaved, or they may assume they did something wrong. Teenagers may become quite angry about a divorce and the changes it creates. They may blame one parent for the dissolution of the marriage, or they may resent one or both parents for the upheaval in the family.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO TO PROTECT THEIR CHILD FROM THE PAIN OF DIVORCE OR HELP THEM WORK THROUGH IT? First and foremost, co-parent peacefully. The most important thing that parents can do is to avoid disparaging remarks towards one another or about one another in front of the children. Talking negatively about a parent while the other parent is not there is very confusing and damaging to a child. Speaking in a kind manner towards one another while the children are present can go a long way in helping children adjust and feel safe during divorce proceedings. Avoid putting kids in the middle – asking children to choose which parent they like better or involving them in the decisions of where they stay can be very confusing, and children are more likely to experience depression and anxiety as a result.
WHAT SIGNS OF STRESS SHOULD A PARENT BE LOOKING FOR? Academic changes, behavioral changes, and changes in sleep patterns can be the first signs of stress in children.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO A PARENT WHO HAS A TUMULTUOUS OR BITTER RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR SPOUSE? Research suggests that children develop higher self-worth and perform better academically when parents display positive communication, parental warmth, and low levels of conflict. It is common for parents who are bitter with their spouses to express their bitterness to their children. I would advise the parent to try to maintain composure and peace when around their children and to seek out counseling to process their anger or resentment towards their previous spouse.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR HOW A DIVORCED COUPLE SHOULD APPROACH CO-PARENTING? One word: together. The more parents can work together, the better the outcome overall. Using technology as a means of communication can be beneficial. When divorced, an organized platform such as Our Family Wizard can help parents work cohesively.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL A CHILD WHOSE PARENTS ARE GETTING DIVORCED? I would tell them that it is not their fault, that they are loved by both their parents, and that they are enough. I would encourage them to talk with their parents about their feelings.
WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE THING YOU WANT PARENTS TO KNOW ABOUT DIVORCE, CHILD CUSTODY, AND ITS EFFECTS ON THEIR CHILDREN? Divorce, child custody, and their effects on children are often misunderstood. Children can be affected in ways that they will carry with them throughout their life. It can affect their own future relationships, their successes later in life, and it can have lasting effects on their emotional wellbeing. Children should be protected at all costs. The less they see conflict, the better off they will be.