Divorce can be emotionally challenging for most spouses, but when you add children
to the mix, the stress just went up to a whole other notch. As a divorcing
parent, not only do you need to manage your own emotions, but you’ll
be dealing with your child’s emotions as well. And if you have several
children, the emotions are
While infants and toddlers may seem the ideal age for parents to go through
a divorce, this isn’t always true. For example, let’s say
a mother and father split just before the child’s birth. The baby
is breastfeeding and will not take a bottle, so this delays overnight
visits for the father for some time. In this scenario, the father may
be very concerned that he will not get the chance to “bond”
with his child.
Divorce & the Effect on Youngsters
Suppose the child is one or two-years-old and has been cared for by his
mother since birth, while his father worked all day to support the family
and allow the mother to be a stay-at-home mom – quite an accomplishment
considering the cost of living in Southern California.
Suddenly, the father moves out of the home and he’s asking for overnight
visits with his toddler. But the toddler, who is used to his mother putting
him to bed each night while his dad traveled for work, throws a fit and
screams uncontrollably every time his father tries to put him to bed.
The father only sleeps for an hour and drags himself into work the following
What we’re trying to say is that for some families, just because
a child is an infant or a toddler, it doesn’t mean there won’t
be challenges for the couple. But the good news is that there are strategies
that can certainly help divorcing parents, regardless if their child is
three months, three-years-old, or sixteen-years-old.
For Parents of Infants
If you have a newborn, overnight visits may need to be delayed initially
until the child is on a bottle. If this happens, it can help if the father
visits regularly. If the mother is breastfeeding and the child refuses
a bottle, the father can still arrange visits while the mother is within
arm’s reach for feeding.
With newborns, as time goes by overnight visits can be introduced and though
it may not feel like it at first, time will fly. The key is to schedule
frequent visits with the father until he can ask for more parenting time.
If these visits are not arranged, there can be bonding challenges and it
can be more difficult to leave the child with the father alone. Insufficient
father-child bonding can be like leaving the child with a stranger when
the child does finally spend more time with Dad, so frequent visits from
the beginning can minimize challenges.
For Parents of Preschoolers
Every family’s situation is different. Some preschoolers are cared
for by nannies all day while Mom and Dad work full-time. Others are cared
for by a daycare or a stay-at-home mother or father. Generally, if the
child is accustomed to being watched all day by Grandma, a nanny, or a
daycare provider, the divorce may not affect the child very much, if at all.
On the other hand, if the child is cared for by a stay-at-home mom or dad,
how the child is impacted by the divorce may depend on two factors: 1)
if the stay-at-home parent has to go back to work, and 2) if the stay-at-home
parent continues caring for the child full-time.
In the latter example, the preschooler may handle the divorce well because
for them, not much is changing. On the other hand, if the parent has to
go back to work, the child will most likely be placed in daycare or a
nanny will be hired.
If your child is preschool age:
- If your was being cared for by a parent and now they have to go to daycare
or have a nanny, understand that while this is a transition, it should
be temporary and your child should adapt within a month or so. The best
thing you can do is thoroughly research your childcare options, and make
your selection carefully. Try to find a childcare provider who will take
excellent care of your son or daughter.
- If you receive joint physical custody, try to keep things as consistent
as possible at both households. This means talk to your former spouse
and arrange it so you have the same meal, bath and bedtimes, and the same
rules. Also, don’t stop your child from bringing their favorite
toys, books, and blankets to both homes as these items can offer your
child comfort when transferring between households.
For Parents of Elementary-Age Children
If your child is in elementary school, it’s very important to reassure
him or her that the divorce is not their fault. Refrain from talking bad
about your child’s other parent within hearing distance, and shower
your child with love.
We also recommend spending lots of quality time with your child, keeping
rules and consequences consistent at both households, and here’s
a big one – getting along with your former spouse. If you and your
former spouse can treat each other with kindness and respect, it can make
all the difference in how your child handles the divorce.
For Parents of Teenagers
Teenagers handle parents’ divorces differently. Your teenager could
be thrilled about your divorce, or they can be very upset about it. Either
way, it’s important to let your teen know how much you love him
or her. If you and your former spouse can get along and build a strong
co-parenting relationship, this is fantastic.
If you can build each other up and show a united front, it will benefit
your teen by providing stability during a very uncertain time in their
life. Also, if you plan to date, be sensitive to your teen’s feelings.
Take dating slow and introduce a new partner gradually, after you have
truly gotten to know them and they have proven to be trustworthy.