How children and adolescents are affected when their parents divorce

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I would like to believe that most people enter marriage with good intentions to make it work and last for life. Unfortunately, the number of marriages ending in divorce courts seems to be increasing by the decade.

If all couples planning to tie the knot went for effective and professional pre-marriage and marriage counselling, most of the challenges faced by children of divorcing parents would be avoided.

Very few children want their parents to separate. Marital relationships need to be helped to improve and grow rather than fall apart, especially when children are involved.

The way divorce is managed makes a difference to the children and this is always reflected in the way children conduct themselves at school.


Below is a fictitious story of how a child whose parents are not managing their divorce in a manner that takes into account the best interest of the children can adversely affect them at school:

Maggie (not her real name) is a twelve year old standard seven girl whose parents have been divorced for a year. Maggie is now living with her mother who is her primary custodian and gets a chance to visit her father during the weekends if he is not out on a work related trip.

Her mother is now living in with her new boyfriend of six months, whom Maggie disapproves of. Her father, on the other hand, is also living in with his new wife of nine months and their two year old son. Maggie has anger problems, evidenced by her tendency to yell at her mother each time her mother tries to intervene in her mischievous behaviour.

Maggie has also developed disobedience at school and blames her teachers for “attacking her” whenever they try to advise her against the self-destructive drinking, smoking and promiscuous behaviour she displays in and out of school.

She resents both her stepmother and stepbrother. Sometimes Maggie blames herself for “failing to save” her parents’ marriage. She feels rejected and is already dating older men, in search of love and acceptance. Maggie’s academic performance has also dropped drastically.

Divorce is often an emotionally stressful period in the lives of children. It often brings rejection, as we see Maggie feeling rejected when she has to share attention with her mother’s new boyfriend, her father’s new wife and son.

She is not happy with the thin slice of attention she gets in her new life.

In search of a bigger share of attention, Maggie resorts to dating multiple older men, because as a child, she does not know how to cope with stress in more helpful ways.

Children often develop anger when their parents divorce in a way that does not cater for their needs. Maggie’s anger is evidenced by her tendency to yell at her parents and disobedience at school.

Anxiety is also something that divorce can bring to children. Maggie is anxious because she thinks her father loves his new child more than her, and that explains why she resents him, especially that the baby was born while Maggie’s father was still married to her mother.

Maggie also dates multiple partners because in her little, irrational mind, she wants to stay in a relationship, in case the other one fails.

In stressful states, parents too are often not in the best position to meet the needs of their children.

In Maggie’s case, both her parents have moved on and formed new partnerships. They are not giving her the attention and support she needs.

Her father, who is often out on work related trips, spends very little time with her and her mother is too busy trying to build a happy relationship with the new man in her life.

In some cases parents blame each other for failed marriages and expect their children to take sides, something that is irrational and promotes dysfunctional behaviour in children.

I know of some cases where parents would irrationally use money to vote for their children’s support and sympathy.

As such children would use that excess money to build self-destructive behaviours such as smoking, drinking heavily and consuming other harmful drugs.

Sometimes divorced parents overlook the fact that children do not have the skills to make sound financial goals, hence dysfunctionally spend the money they do not need.

Parents also overlook the fact that even though their marriages have come to an end, their parenting responsibilities have clearly not.

Quite often schools are not able to associate children’s malfunctioned behaviour with divorced parents because the above mentioned symptoms are not only peculiar to divorce.

VICTORIA S. SETHIBE

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