Divorce, Step Families

Separation, divorce and/or remarriage impact children as well as adults. Six out of ten marriages end in divorce today. Separation and divorce hurts ... it hurts the parents and the children. This is a difficult time for all family members. It is hard for children to accept that no matter how good they are, how great their grades are, or how bad they act, they don't have any power to make their parents relationship better or to bring them together. It is also hard for children to understand that even if their parents do not love each other or get along anymore, that doesn't change their love for their children.

Reactions and Concerns

Some children react to a divorce with some, or all, of the stages of grief: shock and confusion, denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, and depression. Others do not. Some children, especially the younger ones, believe that they are responsible for the separation; others blame one or both of the parents.

Children's initial concerns are usually about how their lives will be affected by the divorce: where and with whom they will live; whether their name will change; if they will have to take a job; if they can continue buying clothes at a favorite store; who will care for them if something happens to the custodial parent; whether they can still invite friends to their home; whether their friends will think less of them.

When and How to Tell Children

When both parents tell the children at the same time, there is a greater chance that the children will hear the same story. Telling the children separately may create an atmosphere of distrust and secretiveness, may result in children's ''comparing notes," and runs the risk of a child being told by a brother or sister

Parents may not want such an open discussion because they are afraid of showing their feelings of hurt, anger, or bitterness. However, if they feel this way, the children have probably sensed it. If either parent is unwilling to speak to the children together, it is advisable that the other parents give the information. What is important is that children be told regardless of their age. Even one-year olds will notice a change and need to be told.

School Involvement

Some people question whether to tell their child's teacher about what is happening in the family. The teacher can be in a good position to provide support and identify a need for outside help.

Check with your child's school counselor to see if the school offers a support group for young people who are experiencing feelings about divorce, separation and/or remarriage.

Provide your child's school district a copy of any Order of Protection or other Court Order which restricts the non-custodial parent's contact with the child and/or his/her access to information about the child.

Children in the Middle

Using children as a source of information about the other parent, or asking children to pick sides in the parental conflict, poses a conflict for children. Children can feel caught in the middle and this is unfair to them. Out of fear or confusion they may go along with what the parent asks. Many children side with the parent they are with at the time, and then fear that their double siding will be found out.

Some children use the divorce as an opportunity to win favors, privileges, and presents. Some divorcing parents may be manipulated because they are still angry with one another or feel guilty about the situation.

Some Suggestions for Dealing with Children Whether you are living with your child or not, you have a responsibility to be involved with your child and to help him/her adjust to the changed circumstances. Children need your support and reassurance that you still love them. Expect them to be angry with you at times and to have mixed feelings.

The following suggestions may be helpful for children whose families are splitting up.

  1. Talk to children about what is happening in ways they can understand and with information that is appropriate to their age level.
  2. Listen to, recognize, and accept the feelings children are experiencing. Encourage them to share their feelings.
  3. Allow kids to remain kids. Be careful not to put them in an adult role.
  4. Don't be afraid to seek help for you and your children if you or they are having difficulty with the separation or divorce and its consequences.
  5. It is important to set some time aside each day (if only 15 minutes) to be with each of your children, to share your child's day, listen to your child's feelings and give support.
  6. If at all possible, try to keep other changes in your child's life, such as school, house, neighborhood, peer group, to a minimum.
  7. As difficult as it may be, you need to find time for yourself and your own life, separate from the kids. Satisfaction with your personal life helps your relationship with your kids and their feelings about themselves.
Parent Dating

At some point, separated/divorced parents may start dating. Young people feel differently about this although many agree it's strange to see their mother or father with a different man or woman at first. Some youth want to see their parent(s) meet others and start dating; others may feel scared, jealous, angry or resentful of the person the parent is dating. Some youth believe that this new person may become more important to their parents than they are.

Often, it is just as difficult and strange for parents to start dating as it is for their children to see them dating. Remind children, just as they need friends their age, a parent needs someone his/her age to share and do things with. Share your feelings and thoughts with them.


Many young people live in "step" or "blended" families. For some young people their ''new family" is an enjoyable one; others struggle with getting used to the situation, and others feel they cannot accept or are not accepted by their new family. This can be a difficult adjustment. Counseling can help improve relationships and communication and help everyone talk about their feelings

For help with separation/divorce/remarriage and its impact on youth and families, see Counseling.

  Home       Teens       Parents       Children       Search