What problems does a child of divorced parents experience?

1. A child of divorced parents may think it is his / her fault that his / her parents divorce
A child, who experiences that his or her parents divorce, may blame herself or himself for the divorce of his/her parents.[1] The child may feel guilty and think that he or she “caused” the problem.[2] Alison Eastwood, the daughter of Clint Eastwood, explains what she felt as her parents divorced:
“My parents divorced when I was six. I had to grow up very fast. It's hard as a kid not to take a break-up personally. Even if your parents say, “You did nothing wrong”, there's still a part of you that thinks, “Is it me? Do they not love me?” You feel like the glue that sticks them together, and when that comes undone, there's always that awful little thing in the back of your mind. I felt rejected and that affects your self-esteem.”[3]

2. A child of divorced parents may become a messenger for parents
“Dad always asks me about Mom. That bothers me.”[4]
Sarah, 8 years old.
When parents of a child divorce, the child continues to be what unites his or her parents. Because there may not be many other things that unite the divorced parents, the child may become a tool for each of the parents to, for example, get messages delivered to and from the other parent.

3. A child of divorced parents may become a negotiator / mediator between parents
Besides being a messenger, a child may become a negotiator / mediator between parents. In this role, the child will take responsibility for reducing the number of conflicts between parents. The child will spend a lot of energy on understanding what each of the parents want and, with each of the parents, try to negotiate to achieve a friendly climate.[5]

That a child becomes a negotiator / mediator between its divorced parents can have several consequences for the child. Some examples:
- When divorced parents communicate through their child, it forces the child to negotiate a situation the parents could not handle themselves. This puts a high degree of stress on the child.[6] A key reason for the increasing stress is that a child is not equipped to understand adult problems.[7]
- When the child does not succeed as mediator, it may have a negative effect on the child’s self-esteem / self confidence.[8]

4. Children of divorced parents may be confused about what love is
A question that a child raises when his or her parents decide to divorce is this: “When my parents don’t love each other anymore, don’t they love me either?”[9] For more reasons, this question will confuse / frustrate the child. Some examples:

Example A
A child instinctively loves both its parents. This love from the child comes out of necessity. The child needs to love its parents because he or she is dependent upon them in order to live. This means that for a child, love is unconditional.[10] Most children do not want their parents to divorce. They want their parents to live together.[11] Many children will wish – often long time after a divorce – that their parents will get back together again.[12]

Example B
A child does not distinguish between the love that exists between a) him / her and his / her parents, and b) his or her mother and father. Therefore, a child does not understand the explanation that his or her parents do not love each other anymore.[13]

5. A child of divorced parents will experience insecurity and lack of stability
A variety of things can cause insecurity and lack of stability for a child whose parents have divorced. Some examples of questions:
- What is going to happen to me next?
- Who will take care of me?
- Where will I live?

- With whom will I live?
- With one parent moving out, what if I lose the other too? [14]

6. A child of divorced parents may develop problems with anger and disobedience
Situations may occur during which a child of divorced parents may refuse to share time with a parent and may try to take sides.[15] One reason why the child may choose side – meaning that he or she prefers to ally with one parent and reduce or minimize contact with the other parent – may be to reduce complexity and thereby reduce stress.[16]

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