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Let's Talk Life - Will divorce affect my children?

Published:Saturday | December 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM
  • Will divorce affect my children?

Dear Counsellor,

I am divorcing my husband and I am worried about the effects on my children who are nine and 12 years old.

- Zara

Dear Zara,

Children are affected by divorce as well as by dysfunctional families. The effects are dependent on the ages of the children and the differences between the parents. Parents need to try and work together for the benefit of the children. They need to help their children understand that the family will learn to adapt to new schedules, new environments, and new ways of communicating. Children's reactions vary and are dependent on the amount of involvement with the non-residential parent and the situation before the divorce or separation.

Also important are the residential parent's ease in adjusting to the divorce, the parenting skills of both parents, and agreement on child-rearing and disciplining of the children. There has to be approval and love from both parents and openness to discussing the divorce. The degree of conflict between parents and economic hardship play a part in how the children adjust to the new situation. Added stressors like moving house, changing schools, and remarriage can make adjustment difficult for the children.

Children fear abandonment by their parents. They may blame themselves, feel unloved and unsafe. They worry about who will take care of them and even who will pick them up from childcare or school. Having a different bedroom and being away from familiar possessions also create stress.

There are certain strategies that you can use. Continue to talk about each step of the divorce. Maintain two-way communication. Keep routines and maintain rules. Remind the children that the parents 'own' the problem and free them from guilt. Continue to monitor the children's activities. Don't involve them in parental struggles. Don't use your children as a replacement partner. Consider joint counselling.

By taking time to read or tell stories together, you can help your children feel safe and close. Sometimes parents have a hard time picking the right words to discuss sensitive issues with their children.

Your children need both of you to stay involved in their lives. Please write letters, make phone calls, and ask lots of questions. When you don't stay involved, your children will feel like they are not important and that you don't really love them. Try to agree on matters related to them. When you fight about them, they may think that they did something wrong and feel guilty. Please communicate directly with the other parent so that the children do not have to send messages back and forth.

Please remember that the children want both parents to be part of their lives. They count on mom and dad to raise them, to teach them what is important, and to help when they have problems.

  • How do I know if I'm depressed?

Dear Counsellor,

I think that I may be depressed. What are the features of depression?

- Marlene

Dear Marlene,

Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Depression can cause physical symptoms, too. You need to be assessed by a doctor to determine whether you are depressed, the cause of the depression, and what treatment to get.

Depression may cause you to have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities and make you feel as if life isn't worth living. Depression isn't a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply 'snap out' of. It is a chronic illness that usually requires long-term treatment like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Symptoms of depression include feelings of sadness or unhappiness, irritability or frustration even over small matters, loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, and reduced sex drive.

Also important are insomnia or excessive sleeping; changes in appetite; agitation or restlessness; slowed thinking, speaking or body movements; indecisiveness, distractibility and decreased concentration; frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide.

Please see a psychiatrist and get yourself sorted out.

Email questions and feedback for Dr Yvonnie Bailey-Davidson to or call 978-8602.