Currently, 50% of today’s children are affected by parental divorce. Court dockets across the country are rife with angry parents embroiled in contentious divorce proceedings that are often protracted by custody and child support disputes. Children of these broken and failed marriages are stuck in the midst of a traumatic event. Whatever parental strife existed prior to divorce is now magnified and children are left helplessly watching the two people they love most tear each other apart. This trauma induced by divorces is equivalent to the trauma induced by experiencing the death of a parent. Many children are left with feelings of anxiety, sadness, depression, and anger. These children often exhibit a variety of behaviors that affect their school functioning. Clinicians counseling children of divorce must be prepared to educate parents and assist them in recognizing the importance of their continued involvement in the child’s life. Counselors must be cognizant of the extreme stress that these children endure and be prepared to advocate for the best interests of their child client. With appropriate intervention for both divorcing parents and their children, counselors can help children heal from the pain of divorce and develop healthy post divorce family structures.
Counseling Children of Divorce
When parents divorce, children’s interests are often ignored or discounted. Angry parents are focused on exacting revenge, or are interested in moving on to a new life, and disregard the painful emotions experienced by their children. School difficulties that the children experience are viewed as problems endemic to the child, rather than latent results of sometimes protracted and contentious divorce, and custody proceedings. Court procedures recommend, and often require that children and adults pursue individual counseling to assist them in processing the effects of the divorce. However, the needs of the child, as part of broken family system, are often neglected. With 50 % of today’s marriages ending in divorce, it is estimated that approximately 60% of U.S. children live for some time in a single-parent home (Carlile, 1991, p. 232). Lewis and Sammons (2001) explain that despite the evidence illustrating the devastating consequences suffered by these children, society has yet to develop adequate interventions and resources to support children of divorce.
The problems associated with divorce include poor school performance, poor peer relationships, psychosomatic illness, drug dependence, criminal activity and suicide (Carlile, 1991, p. 232; Lewis & Sammons, 2001, p. 103). Zinsmeister (1977) characterized children’s view of divorce as a disaster (p. 29). Other studies report children feeling that their childhoods have ended when their parent’s divorces became finalized (Wallerstein and Lewis, 2004, p.361). These childhood perceptions are not surprising considering that the standard of living of both parents decline in the first year following the divorce. Due to the decline in the post-divorce families standard of living, children are subjected to not only the loss of their family, but often school changes, changes in schedules, and individual changes in their parents. Children often
must move into less expensive dwellings and are often left alone, as single-parents are forced to seek out additional sources of income, in order to financially support the needs of the family (Carlile, p. 233). Parents often become overly reliant on their children, requiring them to take on many adult responsibilities (Zinsmeister, 1997, p. 30).
Levitin (1979) discovered decades ago that newly divorced single parents were found to be less consistent in their discipline, less apt to reason with their child, communicated less well, were less affectionate, and had less face-to-face...