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The Kids Come First: Child-Centered Divorce

By Sarah Ellis, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent at UF/IFAS Citrus County
Reviewed by Victor Harris, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Almost a decade ago, I made the very difficult decision to divorce my husband. After much soul-searching, I felt that the relationship just could not be repaired. We had two children together, and throughout the process I focused on their needs, not mine. While this is not always easy, it is what is best for the children.

More divorces are initiated in January than any other month. Because of this, January has been designated as Child-Centered Divorce Awareness Month, providing a chance to recognize how divorce impacts children. Divorce is hard for all involved, but it is especially difficult for the children. Children do not understand all the issues that lead to the decision to divorce, and may feel frightened, worried, or confused as the process unfolds.

During this trying time and afterwards, the child’s well-being needs to be the focus. Co-parenting during and after a divorce is difficult and requires work. Studies have shown that no matter what the family structure, the best predictor of a child’s emotional and social well-being is the quality of the parenting he or she experiences. So what does this all mean?

While it’s not always easy to get along, parents need to put their feelings aside and learn how to work together and co-parent calmly after a divorce. The child benefits and thrives when parents can cooperate, agree on rules, and support each other’s decisions. Since children learn interpersonal skills by observation, parents should model positive behaviors, such as clearly communicating and resolving disputes by negotiating or compromise. This will help children learn and use these skills so they can develop positive relationships with their peers, and with their own partners later in life.

Divorce is, of course, a very difficult experience for many people, and the emotions can be hard to work through. If you have recently divorced or are currently in the process and find yourself unable to put your feelings of anger or resentment aside when interacting with your ex-spouse, please get help from a licensed therapist. Most health insurances will cover this cost, and it can help you find peace and move forward with your life. Your children will thank you, too.

(Photo credit: Dad and daughter by Peter Werkman. CC BY 2.0.)

Further Reading

Rights of Children–A great list, reminding parents of what kids should be able to expect during and after a divorce in order to heal

The Impact of Fathers on Children’s Well-Being

References:

Amato, P. R. (2005). The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation. The Future of Children, 75-96.

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