Switch to Accessible Site
Therapy for IndividualsCouples, & Children in Malibu, CA.
Couple Therapy Session

Children of divorce

The 2017 California demographics for the city of Malibu, when compared to other areas within a 30 mile radius including Agroua, Oak Park, Westlake, and Thousand Oaks, reveals an approximate 50% higher divorce rate. Malibu has about a 40% higher divorce rate than that of California overall. Divorce is sad, and despite the reasons for it, whether it's a positive change for the couple and/or a tragic loss, the children are always collateral damage. This is not to say that divorce isn't sometimes necessary; it takes two for a relationship to work and sometimes working it out between a couple is untenable. Sometimes it is best for the whole family that the couple separates, despite the inevitable feelings of sadness, grief, and loss.

There is a wealth of information available about divorce on the internet in blogs and articles, in books at the local library or from Amazon, in magazines, and there are guidelines, suggestions, strategies available about how to break the news to your children and what to expect.  Recently I wrote an article about this in my blog. This information isn't new, neither is divorce in our society. Peaking in the 1980's, divorce is something everyone in our society has been exposed to, either experienced through friends and family or personally, although national divorce rates have been on a steady decline over the past 40 years. 

Despite these statistics, despite the plans that will be proposed by mental health authors, lawyers, other members of the family, if you are going through a divorce and have children expect there to be fallout. Most commonly, when people talk about children and divorce they discuss the guilt, the self-blame, the anger, the acting out in school or with friends. It's a good idea for your child to see a therapist so that these feelings can be discussed and sorted out. 

THE HIDDEN AFTER-EFFECTS OF DIVORCE

When the family reestablishes its equilibrium, years pass, maybe a step parent is in the picture now, and your once younger child is a pre-teen or teenager, maybe even a young adult; there is an expectation shared by all including the child, that everyone should now have moved on and gotten over the divorce. But this is often not the case. When a family goes through a divorce it can be traumatic to children and adults alike. Adults may always bear their scars about the incident, but children, because they are going through their individual and fast paced developments will bear scars of their own. 

So many mental health problems that I treat are a result of trouble in the home during childhood, including divorce. The child will not remember in their explicit memories. The feelings that the child felt as a member of the family, experiencing the day to day fighting and breakup of their parents, will be sealed hermetically underneath the many layers and folds of development. The feelings that the now older child will experience will not make sense to them, and it will only come out in implicit ways, through symptoms. For example the child, when asked, will tell me that the divorce was "a long time ago," "I don't remember," "it was for the best," "it wasn't my fault," "my parents love me, just not each other" "I was only two years old." Logically these statements make sense, they are the narratives that were given to the child by the adult, which they now parrot back; however, the trauma of the divorce remains fresh and the child may experience anxiety, depression, or acting out behavior such as lying, cheating, stealing. A trauma like a divorce causes a rift in development, and there will be the part of the child that has grown up and matured, the part that can look you in the eye and speak to you sensibly with reason, but the other side, the part that was delayed developmentally remains, and rears its ugly head throughout the developmental process and often times into adulthood.

There is hope. Beginning therapy for your child and possibly yourself is a good idea. As I've said above, it's best to begin therapy for your child before or during the divorce, and ideally to maintain the therapeutic relationship ongoing. After the fact, it may be frustrating because the event that seems to have occurred long ago is now cut off from feeling and thought, and connecting the present with a fuzzy recollection of the past can be difficult. But it is never too late to begin to work out feelings from the past, and that is the work of psychotherapy.