Divorce and Children’s Mental Health

The Globe and Mail published news about a study conducted by Statistic Canada that concludes “Even before a marital breakup, young children of parents heading for divorce tend to develop mental health problems.”

Supposedly big news, but it’s not a big surprise to me. An unhappy marriage normally does not end overnight, despite the fact that people seem more willing nowadays than in the past to walk away from a marriage that’s not working.

The reality is that for at least a year before a couple separates, and often longer, things on the home front will be unhappy. Often, the children will witness open hostility and nastiness between their parents. Even in cases where parents are civil to each other the children will notice that the marriage is not working. In addition, children will often be pressured, subtly or not so subtly, to side with one parent or the other. Is it any wonder that the children are developing mental health problems even though there’s no divorce?

The difficulty really is that divorce is a dramatic and definable event, whereas a couple “heading for a breakup” is a lot more difficult to identify. Lots of couples have marital difficulties, which doesn’t mean they’re “heading for a breakup.” Even if a couple is “heading for a breakup,” the family problems may be hidden from outsiders. Only when the marriage ends can you know for sure, and then of course, it’s too late for the children.

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