Study reveals impact of divorce on children

File photo / Thinkstock
File photo / Thinkstock

Divorced parents are often in denial about how badly the break-up has damaged their children, a new UK survey has found.

More than three quarters believed their children had 'coped well' - even though just 18 per cent of youngsters said they were happy with the situation.

Many parents fail to notice that their children are turning to drink and drugs, or even considering suicide, the poll found. Some were insensitive enough to break the news of the divorce to their children by text.

One in five of the children polled felt there was no point confiding in either their mother or father because they were 'too wrapped up in themselves'.

The survey, by parenting website Netmums, polled about 1000 divorced parents and 100 children aged eight to 18 from broken homes in the UK.

Although it featured only a relatively small pool of youngsters, a stark picture emerged of the struggles that many of them face when coping with their parents' break-up.

One in 20 had turned to alcohol and one in nine had deliberately wounded themselves.A further 6 per cent had considered suicide, while two of those polled had tried to kill themselves.

Almost a third described themselves as devastated by divorce, while one in 12 thought that it meant their mothers and fathers 'didn't love them' and had 'let them down'.
But despite the damage wrought by their parents splitting, few children felt able to speak openly and honestly about their emotions.

Nearly 40 per cent said they hid their feelings from their parents because they did not want to upset them.

Many children felt forced to look after their mothers and fathers as the relationship broke down, and 35 per cent claimed that one parent had tried to turn them against the other. To make things worse, parents often vastly underestimated the impact of their behaviour on their sons and daughters, the survey found. Only 8 per cent admitted trying to turn their children against their partner.

And just 10 per cent said their children had seen them fighting - even though 31 per cent of youngsters told of witnessing rows. One in ten knew their children were hiding their true feelings about the divorce but fewer than one per cent were aware of them drinking, self harming or taking drugs to cope.

Meanwhile, just 5 per cent guessed their children blamed themselves for the split - even though 13 per cent of youngsters admitted feeling this way. One in ten parents thought their offspring were actually 'relieved' they had left their partner.

The survey found the most common way to break the news about the divorce was for mothers to tell their children face-to-face.

But 13 per cent of youngsters had heard the revelation during a row and one per cent had been told about it by text.

Once the parents had decided to break up, two in five of those polled said they left that day, with 18 per cent leaving the family home within a week.

In many cases, they never returned. Almost a quarter of youngsters said that they had not seen their father since the split.

Both the parents and children polled wanted better support during the separation, such as counselling and the opportunity to talk to someone outside the family. The findings have been released ahead of January 6, dubbed D-Day, as the day that many couples, struggling after a stressful family Christmas, finally file for divorce.

Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard called for parents to talk more to their children about their feelings.

'Divorce may be a little word but it has a huge effect,' she said. 'It's estimated that one in three children see their parents separate before the age of 16.

'While experts acknowledge it is better to come from a broken family than live in one, this research shows not enough is being done to support youngsters through the break-up process.

'While divorce may be the best thing for many families, we have to ensure children are helped to understand the split isn't their fault and that they are still loved.'

- Daily Mail

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