Often, parents who are thinking about getting a divorce will ask what age is best for their kids. While there's no "magic" number that defines when kids are most resilient, age is a valid consideration. But it's not the only one. If you're thinking about filing for a divorce, here are ten factors you should keep in mind:
- How attached your children are to each parent. Kids who have a strong attachment with both parents may have a more difficult time coping because they feel compelled to be loyal to both of you. In addition, remember that your kids have the right to maintain the same connection to each parent that they enjoyed before the divorce. So if your kids are close with both of you right now, you may need to go into the divorce with the expectation that you'll share custody.
- Whether your kids have recently experienced other losses. Grief affects children just as strongly as adults. And if your kids have recently gone through the loss of a loved one (or even a pet), moved, or changed schools, divorcing at this point may affect them more deeply.
- How much conflict they witness at home on a regular basis, and how intense. Exposure to a lot of intense conflict at home doesn't always make separation easier for kids, but it can temper the disappointment some.
- How a divorce would impact your kids' economic stability in the short- and long-term. Statistically, women and children are more likely to be left with less money post-divorce. As you decide what to do, and when, consider your ability to pay for your kids' necessities -- like shelter, food, and clothing -- as well as any activities or "extras" they've grown accustomed to.
- Whether they would have to move or change schools. Obviously, changing schools would compound all of the other changes a divorce would set in motion. Consider how strongly your children are attached to their friends, currently, and how moving to a new town would affect those relationships.
- Whether they have friends who've gone through a family's divorce. Knowing other kids first-hand who've also experienced divorce could help your children feel less isolated as you go through the process.
- Each parent's ability to personally cope with the changes associated with the divorce. Consider how you'll each tend to your own self-care so that you'll be able to demonstrate the strength and resilience your kids will need.
- Whether you'll be able to collaborate with you ex. Demonstrating a willingness to communicate with your ex effectively, and often, will convey to your children a sense of stability as you go through this time of intense family change. Consider your ability to set aside your own pride, at times, to do what's best for your kids -- even when doing so will be extremely difficult, emotionally.
- Each child's history of coping with transitions. Every child experiences divorce differently. But if you have a child who has a hard time with transitions, in general, you should be prepared for the experience to be even more difficult.
- Their ages. Finally, age is a valid consideration. Very young children will have fewer, if any, memories of living together as a family. The more your children associate their identity with the family unit you've created, the harder it is to accept that change and move on.
None of these factors should be considered clear-cut reasons "for" or "against" divorce. You and your spouse are the only ones who can make the decision about what's right for you and your family. As you reflect on how a divorce would affect your kids, consider scheduling a few sessions with a family therapist -- either on your own or together.
A professional can help you either work on the relationship and reconsider divorce or take healthy steps toward the changes that lie before you.