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Kids   »   How Parents Can React When They Separate!

How Parents Can React When They Separate!

Divorces are common. More than half of all parents separate. But even though it’s common, it often means a crisis for parents. Even though they’re the ones who chose to separate. During crises, people don’t behave as usual. When everything in life changes, you might feel like you’re losing yourself and forgetting how things are usually done.

Here, as a child, you can read more about how parents might feel – so you have a better chance of understanding why they do what they do.

It’s Often Toughest at the Beginning

When parents are going through crisis feelings, children can be especially affected. Firstly, you’re forced into lots of changes that you didn’t choose. Secondly, your parents usually don’t function very well during the divorce itself. They forget to do laundry, cook less appetizing food, and miss things they usually keep track of. Partly, this is because they have so much else to deal with. They need to agree on money, who will live where, and the schedules for how children will live. It’s also because they’re experiencing a lot of crisis feelings. They might panic about what they’ve done. They might worry about how they’ll manage on their own or feel abandoned. But most of all, separated parents usually feel guilty towards their children because they know the divorce is tough for them.

Separated Parents Can React Completely Differently

How parents react depends, among other things, on whether they both wanted the divorce or not. Many parents decide on the divorce together. It can also be that one wants to leave while the other wants to continue living together. It’s a bit more common for moms to decide on divorce than dads. Regardless of whether one parent or both together decided to divorce, the divorce depends on how they’ve been in their relationship. The divorce is usually toughest at the beginning for the parent who didn’t choose it. But as the weeks go by, feelings usually change.

It’s typical for everyone in a crisis – what you feel and think changes pretty quickly.

It Gets Better After the Crisis

It’s common for parents to be extra emotional when they divorce. They can switch between being extra happy, angry, and sad. Maybe all in the same day. That’s how people work in a crisis. You kind of lose control a bit more easily.

It can be very tough to see your parents like this. It can feel like you can’t trust them the same way as usual. But actually losing control over their emotions also helps separated parents. It makes it easier for them to get used to all the changes when they divorce. The important thing is that the crisis feelings pass after the divorce. Children need a new, secure everyday life where parents are more like usual again.

Do You Recognize These Feelings?

Here are examples of feelings among separated parents. They can come and go randomly and change quickly.


It’s common for separated parents to feel ashamed and guilty for divorcing. When you’re ashamed, it feels like you’ve done something wrong. You might regret it but still feel like it’s necessary. It also makes you feel powerless, like you can’t control your life.

Shame and guilt are complicated feelings. They make you quiet and want to withdraw. You blame yourself and have trouble being happy and calm. Shame also messes up your other feelings. It can prevent you from being happy because you might feel like you don’t have the right to be happy.

Guilt also affects how you think. You become bad at making decisions because you don’t trust yourself to make good ones. You can also become self-absorbed and have trouble thinking about others – like your child, for example – because you’re preoccupied with guilt.

For most parents, the feelings of guilt calm down after they’ve separated. As a child, it can be hard to understand why parents choose to divorce when they’re ashamed and guilty. But most parents divorce because they feel like they have no choice. They might panic about how it’ll be for the children at first. But often, they think it’ll get better later. That they’ll become happier, calmer, and better parents. And often, they actually do! But it usually takes some time before that happens.


Another common crisis feeling among parents is anger. Arguments are a common reason for parents to divorce, and it’s common for them to be angry with each other during the divorce. Of course, anger often stems from not seeing eye to eye as parents. But it can also stem from feelings of guilt. When you’re ashamed, it’s easy to want to blame someone else for everything bad. That way, you don’t have to see what you’ve done wrong.

Anger usually calms down after the divorce too. But some parents refuse to let it go. Then it becomes tough for a child. Because anger prevents parents from being calm and happy. Plus, it can be scary if your parent easily gets angry. It’s good to know that parents can get help with their anger. There are psychologists and other relationship experts who can help parents, both individually and together.


Many parents are sad during the divorce. They think about everything they’re losing and what they’re putting their children through. For many, it’s a sadness that the family won’t stay together anymore. They might have dreamed of the family being forever. A parent who didn’t want the divorce might mourn being left behind. It’s common to wonder what you did wrong. Even the parent who wanted the divorce can be sad. They might feel like they had no choice.

It can be scary to see your parents sad. You might feel like you want to be extra kind and calm to help them feel better. You might try not to show if you’re sad or worried yourself to protect your parent.

But sadness isn’t actually a bad feeling in a divorce. You can actually think the opposite. If you’re not sad when you divorce, it’s like your family didn’t mean much to you.

Often, being together when you’re sad helps. It can feel good just to have someone acknowledge that you’re sad. You can also do things together that cheer you up. That way, the sadness can disappear for a while and be easier to bear.

Restlessness and Extra Energy

It’s common for parents to become restless and have extra energy during a divorce. Instead of listening to what you’re saying, they might rush around, fix things, and constantly think about other things. They have less patience and might talk unusually loud and fast. This is a reaction to being in a crisis, to something ending and something else not really starting yet. The brain goes into survival mode, and stress makes you think more about the future than what’s happening here and now.

Since a divorce is tough for a child too, you need to have at least some quiet time with your parent every day when they listen to you. It can be when your parent picks you up from an activity, after dinner, or when you’re going to bed. If you tell your parent that you’d like these moments, it can help them realize how restless they are. It’s common for parents to switch between restlessness and tiredness. Later on, after the divorce, these shifts usually stop, and their energy becomes more normal. That’s a sign that the crisis is over.

Cold and Shut Off

Some parents neither become angry nor sad but rather become distant and quiet. When experiencing something stressful, shutting down can be a survival mechanism. One shuts off to cope. Slowly, this detachment begins to loosen up. Suddenly, you may receive a hug or hear the parent laugh again. Sometimes, it’s only then that you notice how distant and quiet the parent has been.

Being cold and shut off can also be a sign of being very angry and hurt. The parent might feel that the divorce is unfair or be angry at the other parent. Being silent and distant can then become a form of protection to let the emotions calm down and then pass. The important thing is for the parent not to get stuck in their silence. After about six months, it’s good if they can start talking about what they feel instead of just being silent. There are psychologists and other relationship experts who can help parents feeling this way. For some parents, it helps to spend time with friends (or their children), to exercise, or do something else they enjoy. They start feeling better when they see and do other things.


For some parents (and children), divorce can actually be a relief! If there has been a lot of arguing or bitterness in the family, getting divorced can feel like a weight off their shoulders. The parent may feel like they can be themselves again. For children, it can be nice to see their parent happy and have a good time together doing enjoyable activities.

But you might also feel guilty if the other parent isn’t as happy. You might feel bad if you’re happy and doing well yourself. In those moments, it’s important to remember that you have the right to feel good. Separated parents almost always want their children to be happy and doing well!

In fact, it’s especially important to be happy and do enjoyable things when things are tough. It helps you cope. Being happy sometimes doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad and angry. Or that you’ve stopped caring about what happened. All feelings can exist at the same time. But joy helps calm the other emotions.

We hope you find the above article helpful! If you have any questions or concerns, you can email us at ❤️

Elisabeth Scholander