The immediate effects on children of a divorce are well documented, but what about the long-term effects? What happens to children years after the break-up of the family? Are there lingering effects that shape their adult lives?
A study from the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry holds some of the answers to these questions. After following up with children of divorce 10 years after the experience, the study suggests there is a range of long-term, emotional after-effects. The good news is that there are things parents can do to help their children avoid these long-term effects.
First, let’s look at some of the effects these children were left with in young adulthood:
Parent-child relationships and children of divorce
Ten years after divorce, the grown children of divorce continue to experience difficulties in relating to their parents. As adults, these children report feeling less affection for their parents and having less contact with them.
Long-term effects of divorce on attitudes towards marriage
Over the long term, the children of divorce tend to become more morally conservative than their parents. They adopt more rigid, traditional views of how marriage and family should be. However, they also have less trust in their future spouse than children from families untouched by divorce.
Grown children’s attitudes towards divorce
Children of divorce are more likely to experience a divorce themselves as adults. In general, these children are more likely to see divorce as an acceptable way to solve marital difficulties.
Sexual behaviors among grown children of divorce
As well as developing more delinquent behaviors over the long term, children of divorce tend to become sexually active earlier than their peers.
Long-term efforts of divorce on future relationships
Divorce seems to set the stage for the development of poor relationship patterns over the long term, including fear of commitment, intimacy and failure. Children of divorce are less able to develop and maintain supportive friendships and dating relationships in later life.
How parents can improve children’s long-term adjustment to divorce
Parents can minimize the effects of divorce on their children by maintaining good communication and loving behavior throughout the process. Children are statistically more likely to be emotionally well adjusted over the long term if the post-divorce family arrangements are stable, organized and maintain rules and clear expectations
It’s also important for children to see one or both parents model a good, healthy, and positive adult relationship with their new partner after the divorce. These post-divorce relationships, even though they exist outside the nuclear family unit, give children healthy role models to follow.
Mothers have a particularly important role to play in helping children adjust to a divorce. Children are more likely to do well in the long term if their mothers maintain relationships of mutual respect and consideration with their children. Interestingly, mothers who lead full and meaningful lives after divorce (such as pursuing interests and forming close relationships) are also more likely to have well-adjusted kids.
Grandparents have a role to play as well. When they focus on their grandkids’ needs rather than getting caught up in “taking sides” during a divorce, this also contributes to better long-term outcomes for the children of divorce.
The effects of divorce can last a lifetime, shaping a child’s adult life in unpredictable ways. But families that keep channels of communication open, set boundaries and model healthy, loving relationships after divorce help to set their children up for better emotional health in the future.