Research on divorce and its effect on kids will make your head spin. For every study that says kids of divorced parents turn out as normal, well-adjusted and happy as their peers from intact families; there is one that will present the bleak picture of children struggling with poor self-esteem, passive-aggressive behaviour and relationship issues in later life.
So let's put research aside for a moment.
Let me tell you a story instead-of my friend Shantanu, 37, from Kolkata. The day he got his wife's name tattooed on his arm, we all thought the proverbial mid-life crisis bug had gotten him. "What if they get divorced?" we all wondered in hushed tones. Then suddenly one day, almost a year later, he chose to explain, "She'll still remain the mother of my children, won't she?" That shut us all up.
Today I see the wisdom in Shan's words. The world we live in, we see marriages breaking up all the time. But a broken marriage doesn't have to mean a broken family, does it? A family is not a social contract like marriage, it is a dynamic force-a force that is steered by multiple factors like parenting styles, shared experiences and the biological wonder that the creation of life is. If full-grown men and women react differently when this force drastically changes course, like in the case of a divorce, it is only natural that each child will react to the situation differently too.
Undoubtedly, a marriage coming apart is a big deal. Kids like their world to be simple and predictable. And a divorce very obviously rocks the foundation of the world as they understand it. But if divorce is the best option for you, don't kill yourself with the burden of guilt.
Recent studies in the field of neuroscience prove that a child's mind grows best when they are in an environment of trust. Basically, mentally, they grow well when they can trust us to understand and respond to their requirements. Without trust, a joint family of 20 cannot raise a healthy, happy child; and with it, even a divorced family can raise wonderfully well-balanced kids.
I have many friends whose parents separated when they were kids. While all of them have turned out to be different individuals-some extremely loving husbands and wives, others sworn to singlehood-the one thing that's common to all is their first reaction to the news: the initial disbelief (this can't be happening to us), anger (why are they doing this?), guilt (am I a bad child?), hoping against hope that their parents would get back together and the crushing disappointment when the truth finally sinks in. It is the same story every single time. So while you can't predict the bigger picture, you can be assured that your child will go through this cycle too.
This is where the protective parenting gene needs to kick in. It will be impossible to avoid the chain of physical changes that are put into motion by a divorce, but the core of their world must not change. Kids are resilient, more so than most parents think. So while it might be tough to cart around favourite toys and pets from one house to another over weekdays and weekends, believe it or not, these are changes a child can learn to accept and deal with without irreversible damage to their young hearts and minds.
What can impact and change them is if the answers to some of their most basic questions change. These aren't questions they'll write down or ask openly. A lot of the time, even they don't know these questions are rattling around in their heads, but they are. The questions are as basic as, 'Am I still loved?', 'Are mummy and daddy still around?'. The addresses might change, but a home must not become simply a brick-and-stone house for a child. If you can answer your child's basic questions in the affirmative, you're doing a good job as a parent.
As I said, while kids like their world to be predictable, they are resilient. It's easier for them to adjust to a blue room instead of a yellow one than to adjust to their parents going from team members to sworn enemies. It is the changes that a divorce brings about in a child's inner world that reflect in their behaviour with the outside world. The lessons a child learns from your behaviour during and in the aftermath of a divorce, are what serve as a blueprint for their future relationships, not your choice in getting divorced.