It is an interesting question and one that many couples preparing to break up ask themselves. And there is no absolute answer.
It depends on your particular family type. If you’re a family of a very close knit kin and you are very attached to each other and suddenly divorce happens, children will suffer separation anxiety.
It is only natural. They have been used to having this parent and that parent around. So because of that close bonding and sense of security, if one parent is not around, the child is going to suffer separation anxiety.
And sometimes children think “Is it my fault my parents separated? Is it something I did or something I didn’t do?” They may be wracked with guilt about their parents’ separation.
So yes sometimes, separation and divorce can hurt children.
But in abusive relationships, separation is generally the best thing. Because children might have a better sense of safety.
You can see where I’m going with this can’t you? There is no absolute answer.
It depends on you, your circumstances and what type of family you have. It is very important if you separate, get a divorce and have children to have some pre-separation counselling around how you can operate your lives and the best way to facilitate children’s needs.
Those children still need to feel secure and happy and loved, and to know that their parents haven’t deserted them, haven’t rejected them or run away from them.
Couples separating or getting divorced are usually so wrapped up in their own emotional issues and feel that they are not paying attention to the well-being of the children.
During a therapy session for couples who are separating I always tell them that I am also going to be speaking for the children in the session.
When you have a relationship and have children, you, as parents, need to understand that the child’s rights, wishes and welfare are best served by the parent passing their decisions through filter that considers your child’s well-being.
Many people simply give up on their relationship during uncontrollable emotional outbursts or meltdowns. This is not a time to decide about your children’s future.
The decision about the child’s welfare needs to be considered in the cold light of day and not on an emotions. You may love your children but what you may want in the moment may not be what is right for your child, now or in the future.
So get some professional help to help your children if you are considering separating from your partner or getting a divorce. Having a third person look at your situation from an objective point of view can be enormously helpful to all parties involved.
Dr Tracie O’Keefe DCH, BHSc, ND is an individual, couples and family therapist who works with families from a system and solution-focused perspective to help them move forward in their lives in the most constructive way possible.