Attachment Styles and Parental Divorce: Everything You Need to Know

Parental divorce

The effects on children of parental divorce are perceptible. They often manifest as disruptions to previously established attachment styles. Intentional and conscious parenting aims to alleviate the unconscious pressure put on children of divorced parents.

After knowing what attachment styles are and how they can change after going through a divorce, you can parent more effectively to reduce psychological distress on your kids. There are preventative measures to take during the divorce to reduce effects. 

The relationship you have with your children before, during, and after the divorce will either reinforce their latent insecurities or comfort their securities. Keep reading to identify parental attachment styles and support your children through the divorce process. 

What Is Attachment Theory?

Attachment is the emotional or psychological bond one has to another person. Infants attach themselves naturally to their parental figures. Attachment is the way in which humans feel and grow their connection with one another. 

Connection is innate to the human condition. A healthy emotional relationship with parents translates to healthy relationships later in life.

According to attachment theory, the emotional response to a caretaker is partially developed for survival. When the primary caretaker is near, the more likely the child will have their needs met. They feel safe with the presence of their primary caregiver. 

In addition to survival, attachment style develops from how the child is being cared for. Attentiveness and nurturance influence attachment style. The ability to focus on and care for your child allows them to feel emotionally safe. This emotional safety is important for their psyche’s way of responding to the outer world. 

If a young one is not properly nurtured, it feels abandoned. This goes beyond having basic needs met. Humans are emotional creatures. Babies and kids need the space to receive love and assurance from their parents. 

Abandonment occurs when their needs have gone ignored. Babies who cry it out at night often feel abandoned. They stop crying because they have given up hope. They feel abandoned, so what is the point anyways?

Through their attachment and connection, they develop how safe they view the world. The kind of responsiveness you give them to their emotional needs shows them how the world will be. If you dismiss them, they feel abandoned. If you comfort and listen to them, they feel validated, important, and safe. 

The theory is a bit complicated. Older generations may not fully grasp the importance of nurturing children emotionally because they may not have been taught that themselves.

What Are The Attachment Styles?

The development that Bowlby and his successors came to find changes how parents can behave to give their kids the best chance at being successful later on. (Bowlby was the founder of Attachment theory).

Before learning ways to positively affect your children during the divorce process, being able to identify attachment styles is important.

Attachment styles are developed during the critical time period following postpartum. As nurturing and comforting behavior coincide with how safe a child will feel, these are the actions that determine a child’s attachment style. Responding to a child’s request for engagement with consistency and attentiveness leads to secure attachment. 

There are typically four types of attachments: ambivalent, avoidant, disorganized, and secure. 

Ambivalent attachment is caused by parents who are unavailable. Children display this by becoming extremely distressed after a parent has left. Children with ambivalent attachment cannot rely on their parental figures for security and safety. 

Avoidant attachment occurs when primary caretakers are neglectful and even otherwise abusive. Children tend to avoid them. They act indifferently in and without their presence. They do not prefer their primary caretaker over a stranger.

Disorganized attachment is seen in children whose parents are inconsistently available. They may sometimes be a source of love and comfort. At other times they may be a source for neglect and unavailability. Children with these types of parents become confused and disoriented. They can act resistant and avoidant when in the company of their caretaker.

Secure attachment is caused by dependable caretakers. Children become distressed when in their absence and joyous when reunited. They are typically wary of strangers. They are not afraid to find comfort with their caretaker and be assured they will return after they leave.

How Parental Divorce Influences Attachment Style 

While attachment styles develop as an infant, they can be revised when traumatic events occur. Kids of divorced parents go through a drastic change in the way they see the world post-divorce. All of a sudden, they are taught that not every couple stays together. 

This sudden instability can cause children to self-sabotage their own relationships. If they feel that all relationships are temporary, even serious ones, they unconsciously or intentionally ruin relationships. This occurs as an attempt to protect themselves from the inevitable fate that the relationship is doomed no matter what.

Their sense of safety is threatened by the added stress of change in living situations. Going back and forth between homes creates a sense of instability in their lives. So when a child may have previously had a secure attachment, this instability could spark a new attachment style.

Depending on how each parent acts, their behavior toward one parent may differ from the other. They may become more attached towards one parent and avoidant towards another. This is entirely dependent on how the divorce process and the time period before the divorce have been portrayed to them. 

When at different parents’ houses, there may be difficult rules to abide by. This results in children having to plan on how their needs will be met instead of having the reassurance that no matter where they are, they will get what they need.

This Is Not To Guilt Trip You

Yes, attachment theory and divorce have an intricate relationship with each other. It’s scary to think that this serious change in your life is affecting the emotional well-being of your kids for their potential futures. But, there are ways in which to avoid having extremely negative effects on your kids’ emotions. 

Parental divorce doesn’t have to be as traumatizing as possible. The way you handle presenting the divorce to your kids has an impact on how they will react emotionally. 

Most parents don’t plan on getting divorced. If it has come to the point where reconciliation is not possible, there are ways to show your kids that the divorce was the best possible outcome for the situation. 

If your kids are older, they may have seen and understood the reasoning for the divorce. They can understand that getting divorced is better than the alternative. Staying together while fighting, bickering, abusing each other, or just generally being unhappy doesn’t teach your kids a good lesson either. 

In fact, staying in a relationship where both parties are being neglected or mistreated teaches your children to settle. So, while a divorce is a hard process and affects your kids, so does the alternative. 

Take comfort in knowing you can actively influence how your kids respond emotionally to the divorce. 

Support Your Kids

Here are the ways that you can comfort your children before, during, and after the divorce. Having a solid emotional relationship with your kid is a good beginning.

If you don’t already have this foundation, find ways to establish one. Connect with your kids outside of the divorce. Be interested in their interests.

Just because you are all experiencing a life change doesn’t mean life has to always be negative. Find ways to find the good in the bad. Uplift each other’s spirits. Have one night where you do an activity to connect.

Planning out time for connection helps so that it doesn’t slip by. Kids appreciate attentiveness beyond infancy. If you are overwhelmed and caught up in your divorce, you might miss this time in your kids’ lives. 

Remember, they will never be the same age they are right now. Enjoy these precious moments with them.

Try having an open dialogue as a great way to share feelings. Do not leave your children to process the divorce by themselves. While they will go through their own experience on their own terms, you can help give them a safe place to feel their emotions. 

How to Consider Attachment While Going Through a Divorce

Encourage your household to have a safe environment to feel grief, pain, hurt, sadness, anger, and any other negative emotions. The only way to the other side of this difficult time is through. By not reprimanding the portrayal of negative emotions, your kids learn that it is perfectly okay to feel how they do.

Remember, this is how a change in attachment style could occur. If they do not feel safe and taken care of in their emotions, their attachment style will change.

If possible, maintaining a cordial relationship with your ex-partner will go a long way. Not all situations make this possible. Communicate with your ex-partner and be on the same terms as far as raising your kids goes. This accounts for any inconsistencies across households. 

Diminishing the number of inconsistencies in rules gives your kids a better chance at having their needs met no matter what.

Try having full transparency when it comes to divulging information to your kids. This honest line of communication helps build their trust levels. If your kids are young, they might not understand the dynamics leading to divorce.

Explaining things honestly gives them a chance at having that understanding. Not every detail needs to be uncovered. Approach telling the story in an unbiased way without sharing details that would harm them.

Don’t put all of the blame on the other spouse. Know that what you say about your ex influences your kids’ relationship with your ex.

Consider Family Therapy

With the emotional support given above, your kids should have a solid foundation to express emotions in a safe way. However, your situation might be more complicated. You may find it hard to manage your own emotions. 

It’s okay. This time is heightened with sensitivity. Seeking help through family therapy may be the thing you need.

Family therapy aims to provide a monitored setting for sharing feelings. Therapists can even see you as a group, but also one-on-one. Seeing family members individually allows people to open up more. 

The goal of family therapy is up to the family. Whatever area you are struggling with, you can work on. You can see a therapist with your ex to work on co-parenting. Or you can see a therapist with your children. 

Therapists help to start a conversation. They are good at asking questions to dive deeper. Kids may not understand their emotions during the divorce process. A therapist can guide them.

Therapists are familiar with attachment theory. They can help you come up with a plan to maintain secure attachments in your children. They can also spot signs of insecure attachments.

It’s nice to have a professional, objective lens. Family therapy isn’t for every family. But, it’s good for those who need additional support. 

You Are Not Alone

Remember that you are not alone. You are not the only people to experience divorce. You are lucky there is so much research on the effects of parental divorce. 

Utilize this research to your advantage. Encourage your children to use the blog linked below as well.

There’s a plethora of information on making everyone feel safe and comfortable during the divorce. For more advice on coping with divorce, check out our blog page.

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