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A Child’s Journey Through Divorce & Separation

There’s no such thing as a perfect family. Our job as co-parents is to take an imperfect situation and smooth out the rough edges as best we can.
(2 min 46 sec read)

Karen Bonnell
Karen is a coach that has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress, and change.

There’s no such thing as a perfect family, childhood or residential schedule. Our job, as co-parents, is to take an imperfect situation and smooth out the rough edges as best we can.

Growth and development are the underlying rhythms of life that we all experience even in the midst and aftermath of divorce and separation. Parents often wonder if children adjust more easily to divorce and separation at certain ages or stages of development than at others. The answer is that children adjust differently and raise different concerns based on their age and developmental needs. Children also adjust more easily when the co-parenting relationship is built on communication and low conflict. 

Change reminds us that life continues and although it can be a struggle to envision meeting their needs during divorce and separation and helping them adjust to a two-home family, it can be done. What helps parents support their children is reliable information about needs and concerns at different stages of development. Your child is definitely one in a million, but some general landmarks can give you a place to begin asking and answering important questions.

Child Development and Adjusting to Divorce & Separation:

  • Infants’ first and most important need is attachment to their caregivers. They can be well cared for in a two-home family if Mom and Dad can stay focused on the needs of the infant for bonding, stability, and an ongoing atmosphere of gentleness and love with each parent.
  • Toddlers are working on their own well-managed separation from and regular return to parents as part of strengthening their individual selves. Co-parents who understand the toddlers needs for regular contact and predictable rhythms continue to support healthy growth and development.
  • Preschoolers worry about losing parents, with accompanying sadness and fear.
  • School-age children bring their own concerns for justice, fairness, rules and grief over losing family stability.
  • Pre-teens are torn between lunging forward into adolescence and falling back into childhood behaviors under the stress of change.
  • Early teens often feel betrayed by divorcing parents as they ride the rollercoaster of their own unfolding puberty.
  • Older teens look for the loopholes in their coParents’ relationship, and may be vulnerable to falling through the cracks as parents imagine that they’re more independent and mature than they actually are.
  • College students may take the news of divorce/separation very hard. They are likely to experience family changes as if their launch pad is disintegrating after take-off, just when they are trying to find their own footing in young adulthood.
  • Adult children interestingly often respond with the harshest judgment to the news that their parents are divorcing. Adult children may question their family’s history, wondering, “If it was so bad why did it last so long?” They struggle to begin their new relationships and regret that just when they long to reunite as adults, their parents’ secure and uncomplicated support is now vastly more complicated.

Just as we consider developmental needs of children in a one-home family, we’re called to consider the developmental needs of children as they negotiate change in their family and expansion into two homes. What kids need most at any age is love.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK.  For more information on Karen or her book, visit

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