All Children with Divorced Parents Will Be Emotionally Scarred for Life
This is one of the most pervasive stereotypes about children of divorce out there. And it is one that parents are understandably most fearful of. However, it is simply not true. While it is true that divorce represents a type of trauma for children, every child will experience their parents' divorce differently and will process it in their own time.
It can be difficult to predict how your child will react or how long it will take them to come to terms with the divorce. Some children will begin to emotionally process the divorce right away, while others may not experience the emotional fallout until they are much older. Because this experience is truly unique for every child (even siblings will not experience their parents' divorce in the same way), you mustn't push your child to move on before they are ready.
Many children of divorced parents see their parents' divorce as a significant or formative event in their lives, but not all children believe that it has irretrievably harmed them. It is important to remember that just as your divorce has changed you, it will also change your children. However, this does not mean that it will haunt them for life.
Related to this stereotype is the idea that if a child isn't acting out, they are fine. It is common for children struggling emotionally to act out or misbehave. However, not all children process emotional challenges in this way. It is not uncommon for children of divorce to be people-pleasers who remain quiet or go out of their way to keep the peace. This can be disconcerting for parents who are surprised their child has not reacted as expected. This is why it is always worthwhile to encourage your children to share their feelings with you, free of judgment.
Divorce Is Easier for Younger Children
This is a common refrain, and it perhaps comes from the idea that young children are less likely to remember their parents' divorce in detail. Though they may not clearly remember the separation in as much detail as a teenager, toddlers and young children are often just as affected by their parents' divorce.
While young children may seem to adapt more readily to changes in their environment, they may be struggling under the surface. Small children feel just as deeply as older children, even though they may not be able to articulate their feelings or understand what is happening on the same intellectual level as an older child. They are still experiencing a destabilization of their family life and are transitioning from having both parents with them all the time to splitting time between two households.
When supporting your young children through the divorce process, it is worth considering working with a family counselor or therapist who specializes in working with young children. They will be able to use their knowledge of childhood development to help you ensure that your young child's needs are being met.
50/50 Custody Is Always Best for Children
As emphasized earlier, no child and no family are the same. This means that there is no one true answer about what custody arrangement is best for all children. The dynamics of your family, the children's age and maturity level, their school schedule, extracurricular needs, and more can all affect what custody arrangement you establish with their other parent. Even families that end up with 50/50 custody can have visitation schedules that look very different.
Some children do better with increased stability during the school year. Therefore, they will stay with one parent during the week and see the other on alternating weekends or for extended periods during the summer. Some families alternate weeks and still others adopt a 2/2/3 schedule where the children go back and forth every few days.
In Illinois, shared custody is the default, but this doesn't always mean strict 50/50. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a parenting time schedule to require modification. As time goes on, the child's needs may change, or the parents' circumstances may change, rendering the original agreement insufficient. Parents may seek to modify their custody arrangement to ensure their children are supported and getting the care they need.
A child custody modification is a legally binding process that changes your custody order permanently. Suppose this is something you and your family need. In that case, you will have to work with an experienced lawyer, like ours at the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C., as modifications are taken very seriously and only done when in the best interest of the children.
To learn more about modifications, read our blog on modifying orders for decision-making and parenting time.
Preparing to Support Your Children Through Your Divorce
Going through a divorce when you have children can be incredibly difficult. Many parents worry about how to support their children through the process and beyond. The way the media portrays children of divorce is often incredibly negative, creating even more anxiety for parents. While the effect of a divorce can be significant for the child, we want to emphasize that it will be different for every child, and you should resist comparing your family to the common stereotypes you see in pop culture.
Instead, keep doing your best to focus on your child's individual experience and needs. Do not be afraid to seek help from a professional when you need it. Also, don't forget to take care of yourself. Just as your children deserve support during this difficult process, so too do you.