If you open a magazine or flip on talk radio, you are likely to stumble upon a new study extolling the devastating effects divorce has on preschoolers. With national divorce rates holding steady at 50 percent since the 1980s, divorce has permeated the American culture. It also permanently alters your child’s emotional, spiritual and family culture.
The Cultural Effect
“Parental divorce can produce discontinuities in social structures that lead to a weakening of bonds to both one's family and religious community,” according to an article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion titled “Parental Divorce and the ‘Switching’ of Religious Identity.” Despite the dangerous pitfalls of divorce, most experts do agree that staying together only for the sake of your child is equally damaging. With guidance, open communication and unconditional love, most children of divorced parents go on to lead fulfilling lives.
Divorce unavoidably changes the dynamics and traditions of the family culture. Different rules and rituals will be established based on the new needs of the household, but both parents should strive to create an equal environment. While holidays might now be a shared event, try to preserve as many annual traditions as possible. You will need to reassure your preschooler that Santa knows whose house to leave presents at, that grandma will still visit and that Daddy will be at the birthday party. Shared parenting arrangements that require a young child to pack up every few days can also create a sense of rootlessness if a basis of stability is not established. Even for preschoolers, the most effective parenting plan considers what your child wants. Both your homes must also offer a safe, loving atmosphere. Daily routines such as dinner and bed time should remain consistent to preserve the family culture as much as possible.
Wavering Spiritual Beliefs
Even preschoolers can experience a crisis in faith in the wake of a divorce. Children raised in strict religions that condemn divorce will have a difficult time reconciling the teachings with their realities. Young children might also question whether their god is disappointed or punishing them for being bad. Several recent studies have also concluded that children of divorced parents are less likely to receive a religious education. Church attendance and social activities tend to decline in the wake of a breakup while Mom and Dad’s diverging beliefs can leave a little one feeling baffled.
Preschoolers find divorce especially confusing. They have fewer tools for processing the emotions they are feeling, and they have a difficult time understanding that they are not responsible for Mom and Dad not living together anymore. This in turn affects self-esteem and creates anxiety about rejection and abandonment. Preschoolers experiencing a divorce often turn aggressive, withdrawn or regress in their skills, such as wetting the bed. Children younger than 5 years of age need a stable, supportive environment in order to thrive. You can preserve the emotional stability of your smaller family by honestly answering your preschooler’s questions and constantly offering reassurances that mommy and daddy love them as big as the world.