The heartache a divorce causes is very deep for all involved and one cannot blame any member of the triangle (Mom, Dad or child) for not knowing how to act. I have over the many years seen many, many parents/children go through divorce and the emotional upheaval is really not pleasant. On the stress scale, it comes after death. Death ranks at 100 and divorce at 73 (Grossi, 2010, p 74).
The sad part of divorce is that it is always the children, the fruit of the couple who love both parents dearly, who have to separate from the one for a time. I say separate because although the child will get to see his mother/father once a week/every 2nd week, it is not the same as having Mom and Dad “there” all the time. There’s a gaping hole, a wound that is so sore that it reaches the very core of the child. The child will not be able to explain this ache and this may cause him to start acting different from his normal behaviour. The child may revert to babyish habits or start being cheeky. The child feels insecure! And can we blame him? One of the 2 pillars of strengths that he has relied on for comfort, security, stability all his life has now been removed and he is left floundering and insecure. Instead of remaining firm and consistent to provide that security and saying, “Hey I’m here still, I haven’t changed, lean on me twice”, nine times out of ten the “left behind” parent displays sympathy and leniency towards the child. This is not what he needs – the child still needs to feel there are boundaries and Mom/Dad still his pillar of strength.
Please note: I do not advocate divorce or staying together for the children’s sake if the marriage has totally collapsed. Children need to feel secure in a home where there is no tension and bickering. However, children will always be at risk psychologically in the case of divorce because:
* Every child wants to have both parents and will do his best to remain loyal to both, thus causing inner conflict and turmoil.
* A child needs a stable family life. Unhappy parents are struggling emotionally to come to terms with the situation and may find it difficult to give the children the essential love and attention they need.
* Parents use their children as a means of retaliation. Often a parent will deliberately go against the mother’s/father’s way of upbringing to “get back at” and upset the other partner. Using a child in this way makes matters worse.
* A child usually emulates his parents and models his behaviour on theirs. In a family where there is open hostility between parents, the child is presented with a disturbed model of behaviour which he is likely to imitate.
Young children between the ages of 3 – 6 often believe that their parents will reunite. Regressive behaviour such as thumb sucking, bedwetting and whining is common.