No parent wants to hear words like “toxic” or “traumatic” used for any experience their child might have – and certainly not one of their parents’ making. Another concerning term that’s increasingly used along with these words is “adverse childhood experience” or ACE.
Increasingly, ACEs are linked to mental, social and even physical problems in adulthood. They’re the focus of study by many in the mental health profession. There are approximately ten agreed-upon ACEs that have been identified as causing toxic (there’s that word again) stress in children.
These ACEs include physical or emotional abuse or neglect and sexual abuse that children experience themselves or witness someone else in their home experiencing. That other person is typically a parent or sibling. Beyond this abuse and neglect, ACEs also include having parents who are incarcerated, are substance abusers or suffer from mental illness.
Finally, parental divorce is widely included as an ACE. Some parents don’t believe that divorce should be included. So why is it?
Divorce often accompanies other ACEs
First, it’s important to remember that many marriages where one or more of these other ACEs is occurring in a home end in divorce. Those divorces can be acrimonious and even violent.
If the only ACE a child experiences growing up is parental divorce, it doesn’t have to affect their current or future well-being. It’s more likely to if parents don’t take care to prevent things like:
- Uncertainty about how it will affect their child’s life
- Fighting, insults, yelling and general negativity toward each other in front of a child
- Financial hardship on one or both parents that affects a child
- Exposure to new partners or others who harm or neglect a child
- Neglect of a child’s needs as parents get caught up in the divorce.
Whether your child has already faced multiple ACEs and is now in the middle of your divorce or the divorce is the only ACE they’re dealing with, they can often benefit from seeing a child therapist who can help them work through and understand their feelings. A therapist can also help parents better recognize how their behavior affects their child.
It’s hard to go wrong by keeping your child’s interests at the forefront of your divorce. This can help you resolve to have a mature, reasonably amicable divorce that sets the stage for being good co-parents. Getting sound legal guidance as early as possible can help you better work toward those goals.