Break up causes stress to children
1. The break up itself is a major stress factor
Children live their lives trusting it will continue the same. Thus, break up is always a major upheaval for the children if they are not prepared for it or the preparation is done insufficiently. Many parents seem to think that it is better for the children to be protected from the information for as long as possible. Sometimes, however, parents do not find the means or the courage to tell about the future break up to their children. In this case, the children’s lives change completely without preparation, which shakes their faith and trust in the predictability of life. Even children take a year or two to adjust to the new situation.
Sudden departure of a parent from the children’s lives increases the stress experienced by them. Coming up with new practices is challenging for children. When children have two homes, all familiar habits and schedules need to be changed. It takes time to find and integrate good practices into day-to-day life.
2. Controversy between parents
Studies have unequivocally shown that the greatest risk factor for children is open, abundant and hostile arguing between the parents, whether or not the parents live together. It is especially harmful if the children become instruments of this arguing, or are used as messengers between the parents. Likewise, it is harmful to criticize, call names or otherwise belittle the other parent to children. Nor is it good for the children to feel that they do not have the right and permission to meet or think or otherwise communicate with the other parent.
3. Deterioration of parenthood after break up
After the break up, parents are hard pressed to adjust to living alone and to take care of practical parenting. It may happen that the parents’ strength is not enough to cope with the break up, to run day-to-day practices, to work and to be a parent. Parental fatigue, especially if prolonged for a long period of time, can burden and impair the children’s development.
4. Loss of important relationships
The more important and close relationships break or weaken by the break up, the greater the burden on children. If the children have to lose close friends, school or day-care friends, familiar carers or teachers and relatives of the other family as a result of the break up, the burden of the break up will increase.
5. New partners
Children are also burdened by new partners of the father or mother. Children should be allowed time to adjust to the change caused by the break up, and not bring additional changes to their lives unnecessarily quickly. From the children’s perspective, it would be better for them to have meeting practices with the non-custodial parent without having to meet a new, unfamiliar adult at the same time.
6. Individual characteristics of children
Recently, the temperament of children has also been highlighted as a factor that contributes to the burden. It has been found that children generally adapt to life changes in different ways. For children with temperament that adjusts to changes slowly or difficultly, the break up of the parents is particularly stressful.
Children may also have other individual characteristics, such as a disability, illness, or learning disability that require more support from both parents than usual. Support may be more difficult to obtain after the break up and this causes stress for the children.
7. Financial factors
Often, the standard of living of both parents declines after a break up, and it can be a burden for children, either directly or indirectly. A tightening financial situation can cut off opportunities from the children’s lives, such as previous hobbies. It may also be the case that one or both of the parents may have to work extra to finance life, which will reduce the amount of time spent with the children and hinder the parent’s coping.
Author: Parenting Experts, the Family Federation of Finland