Children of divorced parents - Do we understand them?

By Dr Sr Judith Lewis UFS

Mangaluru, Oct 10: We are living in a world where marriages are becoming more and more fragile and divorces are on the increase. One tragic side-effect of all marital separations and divorces is the plight of their children. No sufficient attention is paid in our society to the reality of mental agony and torture the children in such situations are made to undergo. Let me highlight some recent cases that came to me just to bring out the seriousness of the subject:

Instance 1: A 6th class boy came to me with eyes full of tears and hurt deeply in heart. He said that his parents have been separated and he lives with his mother. Sometimes his father calls him over the telephone, but his mother scolds him whenever he responds to his call. All the time she speaks negative of him. “I want to see him but my mother does not allow me to meet him. Every day he was helping me to do my homework. Now I cannot concentrate and have no interest in the school and I get low grades. But my mummy beats me and scolds me for poor results. My mother does not understand me. I miss my dad very much. I feel so sad when my classmates speak about their dads. I feel I have none. I cry sometimes at night and my mother scolds me even for that.” This child is suffering with deep emotional wounds, but his mother does not understand him.

Instance 2: A fourth standard girl expressed her agony: “my parents are compelling me to choose - either to live with daddy or with mummy. But I want both. Both love me.”

Instance 3: A second standard girl bemoaned: “My daddy disappeared suddenly. I asked mummy, where has he gone? But she simply gets angry when I ask that. Why should she get angry? Has my daddy gone far away for work? Why he went without telling me? When will he be back?”

All this, makes crystal clear to us that the broken home can disrupt and confuse the child’s world. Most of the time the couples think that either separation or divorce is the best solution to resolve their marital conflict. But these adults hardly show any concern towards the plight of their kids and take such drastic measures which bring untold misery in the lives of their growing children. They hardly give a thought that things could get complicated for the child. In fact, we see terrible negative impacts on these children and their life in the school.

First of all the children of broken or divorced families get psychologically affected. The effect of divorce on children is psychologically damaging which could trigger into mental health issues in the children. Children’s mind becomes chaotic with emotional pain that generally gives rise to headaches. Their complaints of headaches to teachers become quite common. Another symptom related to parental divorce is ‘asthma’. The parental conflict could give rise to emotional trauma in the children, which can result in the onset of asthma in some cases and if the child already had it, it is bound to become worse.

Still another prominent negative manifestation is shyness and lack of self-confidence. Both actually go hand in hand in the case of children of divorced or broken families. This is because the child is missing parental love and communication with affection, which make them withdraw into their own shell, take shelter in loneliness and become discontented in life. In the school they feel diffident to open themselves up in social interaction. They become dull in co-curricular activities, gradually become introvert, moody and lifeless. They start day dreaming and their concentration power dwindles.

Another widespread problem of these children is anxiety. For every little thing, they become anxious. This can develop into serious mental disorder if proper help is not given to them. They need counselling sessions or cognitive behavioural therapy so that they overcome irrational fear and anxiety. If not, the fear and anxiety can spread to every aspect of their lives. They will be afraid to leave the house alone, to communicate with peer groups and to handle even ordinary situations.

The most common adverse effect will be on their schooling which invariably gets disrupted, and their progress gets diminished. This is because too many negative thoughts bounce around their little heads, making them worried, nervous and sad. There are cases where some such children become hyperactive and violent, and some others get into the habit of stealing. These children need regular counselling and keen observation of their behaviour in the school.

In conclusion, what we can affirm is that a marriage links the children to parents. Every communication of the parents is observed keenly by the children; even non-verbal sign language sends messages into their sense organs affecting their behaviour. Many a time the tiny children suffer silently when problems of relationship crop up between parents. And they are unjustly victimised. Without doubt they will be psychologically affected throughout their lifespan. So they should be counselled at right time.

It is becoming more and more certain that the children learn many things just by observation and it is not necessary to dictate to them everything.

By Dr Sr Judy Lewis UFS 

(Sr Dr Judy Lewis UFS, Sampoorna Counselling Centre, St Ursula Convent, Bolar, has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and Counselling from St Thomas University, Manila, Philippines. She is presently working as counsellor and animator in Mangaluru, Udupi and Bengaluru. You can reach her at