By Dhara Thakar Meghani
The pursuit of a union is such a popular subject for South Asian films, television series, and websites that marriage may as well be compared to that pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow.
Whether among friends or strangers, many South Asians will agree that the topics of marriage and starting a family are as safe to discuss as sports or the weather.
For a community that celebrates tying the knot with all the bells, whistles, and horses they can muster, it’s no wonder that “divorce” by contrast, is such an unmentionable. South Asians have been lauded not just for the splendor of their weddings, but so too for their relatively low divorce rate compared with most other ethnic groups – so why should we be more amenable to talking about divorce? Although the actual rate of divorce among South Asians is not comprehensively documented, there is anecdotal and preliminary data demonstrating that divorce is on the rise, not just within the South Asian Diaspora, but also in India¹.
No matter the reasons for divorce, the emotional, financial and societal consequences can bear heavily on the couple, their social networks, and certainly, their children. In most countries, the complexity of divorce grows exponentially when children are involved. It’s likely that parents have already put forth a valiant effort to work things out for the sake of keeping their family together. For some couples, this strategy may ultimately work; for many others, however, divorce overshadows the proverbial rainbow and appears more resolutely on the horizon.
Telling children about this imminent reality may be a daunting task, and parents can experience an array of emotions including guilt, sadness, concern, and perhaps even relief when having this conversation. The volumes of research studies that suggest short- and long-term impacts on children’s emotions, behavior, social relationships, and school performance can amplify parental worry about how this divorce will affect their child². It can be helpful to remember that children will interpret the divorce depending on their age and developmental capabilities.
For example, a child who is 3 years old when her parents are divorcing will need to hear the news in a much simpler way than her 7-year-old sister, even though both will benefit from continued reassurance that the divorce is not their fault. Siblings whose parents are divorcing are also likely to experience this event differently from one another. The impact of the divorce may come in the form of sleep difficulties, “clinginess,” and more frequent temper tantrums for the 3-year-old, while her older sister might respond by disengaging from school, behaving more aggressively toward her teachers, or withdrawing from her friends.
As ill prepared as parents may feel for the adjustment period following a divorce, there are many ways they can continue to serve as anchors of support for their children, even from different addresses:
• Agree on a truthful and age-appropriate way to talk about reasons for the divorce;
• Avoid saying negative things about the other parent or blaming the other parent (yes, this can take tremendous self control!);
• Provide opportunities for children to be in regular contact with the other parent, especially if custody is not split equally;
• Strive to keep some consistency in your child’s life to balance all the change: try maintaining their schedule of extracurricular activities and play dates with peers, and continue traditions with extended family members when possible.
• Seek support from trusted friends, family members and professionals as necessary to help you and your children get through this challenging time.
Dhara Thakar Meghani recognizes that the circumstances surrounding a divorce are unique for each family and that you may have additional questions about how marital conflict or divorce may affect your child – she invites you to ask questions in a confidential way by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
¹Sinha, R.K. & Singh, A.K. (2005, July). Growing incidence of divorce in Indian cities: a study of Mumbai. Talk presented at the 25th IUSSP conference, Tours, France.
²Lansford, J.E. (2009). Parental divorce and children’s adjustment. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(2), 140-152.