Divorce rates have been declining since the ‘90s and millennials are waiting longer than ever before to tie the knot—statistics that some researchers predict show millennials may be less likely to divorce than their parents’ generation. But that doesn’t mean that divorce isn’t still happening and impacting the children in between the process.
For one thing, parents are choosing to co-parent following divorces in new and surprising ways.
On Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” the CEO, Melissa Friedman, and Chief Program Officer, Carol Love, of Kids in the Middle joined host Don Marsh to discuss how their services help children caught in the middle of divorce. The agency opened in 1977 and provides counseling for children whose parents are separated, divorced or remarried through group therapy and different therapeutic activities.
One of the unique things about Kids in the Middle is that parents are not allowed to subpoena records from the organization to use in custody battles, which creates a trustworthy space where kids can confide real issues.
Over the years, the organization has seen a lot of things change.
“The kids today are dealing with the same things,” said Friedman. “Nowadays, [divorce] is much more common. Now, kids have contemporaries to manage this with whereas in the 1970s, they didn’t. We were new in 1977 and it was slow growth to get where we are today. There wasn’t help for these kids. They have people to talk about it with now.”
Love said that in the 1970s, divorce was not something that was talked about and many children felt like it was a “black mark” on their family to have parents who were separated.
“Counseling in the ‘70s, people had a lot of different feelings like you didn’t go to the counselor unless you were ‘crazy,’” Love said. “People didn’t always look for the support or know it was available. The openness has helped. It is easier now to get help, but kids will keep it inside.”
As millennials become parents, many of whom grew up with divorced parents themselves, Love expressed a little worry about how they will be able to deal with divorce.
“One of the things we tell parents is how they handle their divorce will help their children in the future in terms of how they handle conflict in their relationships,” Love said. “I think it remains to be seen. This generation, there are a lot of things different than the generations before. We worry sometimes with the social media, are they developing enough conflict resolution skills, social skills? All those things really come into play when you’re talking about marriage which is a difficult thing over time.”
“They’re definitely waiting to get married until they’re older,” Friedman said. “The trend tells us that divorce rates will go down because of that. They’re more mature when they’re getting married, they have adult relationship skills. We just haven’t seen it ourselves yet.”
The child in the middle of a divorce will still face some of the same issues their older counterparts have had to face.
“Every child is affected, every child blames themselves,” said Friedman. “Most of the time, they tend to internalize the problem. Over time, they stop asking for what they need and you realize there’s something going on. It can be difficult for parents to recognize because they want it to be okay. Their guilt can keep them from seeing what’s going on. The child’s anxiety about dealing with an adult issue that is really fraught with lot of issues they can’t understand, causes them to shut down. Sometimes you see it, sometimes you can’t.”
Of recent trends in closer co-parenting, Love said that new research indicates that for parents who do it really well, their outcomes are similar to families where there was no divorce. The bad outcomes come when the parents have an ongoing disagreement or the child is cut off from one of the parents entirely.
The organization has recently started offering co-parenting classes to parents wishing to improve their relationship with one another post-divorce. It has also expanded in-school counseling services to aid children in low-income families who are impacted by divorce.
Two of the best pieces of advice about helping a child through divorce going forward?
“You really need to give kids permission to ask questions they think you might be upset by,” said Love.
“The most important thing to do when you’re separating or divorcing is to keep the intensity and the duration of your conflict low,” said Love. “The worst outcomes for people as they move into adulthood are in situations where there was chronic conflict over years and kids were not able to manage it well. Their life satisfaction, their career satisfaction and their relationship satisfaction are all impacted.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.