We all know that divorce, with its chronic conflict and disruption of established family life, exposes children to a number of risk factors for behavioral and psychological problems. In total, 20-25% of children from divorced families express lasting problems into adulthood (1).
A less quoted statistic, however, is that nearly 42% of young adults from divorced families received higher well-being scores as compared to young adults from non-divorced families (1).
With two such disparate outcomes from children in similar situations, it begs the question: what can we do to both prevent problems and ensure high levels of well-being in our children?
Resiliency appears to be the answer.
Although resilience proves difficult to define, it generally refers to “patterns of positive adaptation during or following significant adversity or risk” that allow individuals to “bounce back” to their previous level of well-being or even to attain a higher level of functioning (2), aka: how kids can thrive after divorce.
Social scientists used to believe that individuals have a finite amount of innate resiliency, but now it's believed to be a skill to strengthen rather than a predetermined trait. As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and psychologist Adam Grant state in their new book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, “Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity, and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.”
So, as co-parents, how do we help our children become more resilient?
Resiliency grows when children are exposed to adversity within safe boundaries.
Divorce will naturally provide children with plenty of opportunities to develop their resiliency. Too much adversity leads to chronic stress and psychological struggles, causing resiliency to wither.
What we can do to help them as parents is to give kids a safe, defined and supported container in which to deal with adversity and grow their resiliency. Among the most important factors in creating this safe space for resiliency to thrive is by effectively sharing, managing and creating boundaries around time.
Below are 3 tools for managing your children's time that will help them thrive after divorce:
Share time between co-parents. Custody agreements vary as is appropriate for each family, but it has been found that children benefit from clearly allotted, regular time with both parents. Studies have found that boys especially do better in school and exhibit less externalizing and internalizing problems when they have contact with their noncustodial fathers (3).
Create clear boundaries around time. Environments characterized by "defined schedules, rules, and regulations" have been associated with enhanced social and cognitive development in kids from divorced families (3). In other words, having set times for bed, for play and for homework help kids feel secure and therefore thrive.
Manage time in a child-friendly way. Arianna Jeret, a divorce mediator and coach in Redondo Beach, California (4) suggests keeping a calendar with mom's days in one color and dad's days in another color (color-coded shared calendars is one of our favorite capabilities of the Fayr app). Clear communication between co-parents keep everyone aware of the child's schedule and promotes feelings of predictability and safety in which resiliency thrives.
J. B. Kelly, R. E. Emery, Family Relations 52, 352 (2003).
S.M. Hopf, Risk and Resilience in Children Coping with Parental Divorce, Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science (2010).
E. M. Hetherington, A. M. Elmore, in Resilience and vulnerability: Adaptation in the context of childhood adversities., S. S. Luthar, Ed. (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, US, 2003), pp. 182-212.
J. Moninger, Making a Child Comfortable in Two Homes, Parents.com (2013).