If you or someone close to you works with children, you may have heard the term “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). These include around 10 to 12 experiences (depending on how they’re categorized) kids can suffer as they’re growing up which can lead to emotional, social and even physical problems as adults. They can remain with them for the rest of their lives if they don’t recognize the root cause of their problems and get professional help.
Certainly, things like war, natural disasters and more external experiences can cause serious trauma to a child. However, ACES are typically things that kids experience within their household that can cause “toxic stress” – a common term when discussing ACEs.
What are the ACEs?
The ACES are generally grouped into three categories:
- Abuse: Physical, emotional and sexual abuse (of the child and/or their parent)
- Neglect: Physical and emotional
- Household dysfunction: Mental illness and substance abuse (of a parent) and divorce
You can argue that divorce isn’t nearly as serious as abuse (whether experienced or witnessed) or neglect. So why is it included?
The number of ACEs matters
If divorce is the only ACE someone experiences in childhood, chances are that alone won’t cause them serious problems in adulthood. However, divorce is often accompanied by other ACEs like one parent’s physical or emotional abuse of the other, substance abuse by one or both parents or neglect of the child by a divorced parent who isn’t capable of adequately caring for them on their own. The cumulative effect of multiple ACEs can be something a person can’t heal from without professional help.
Divorce doesn’t have to be an ACE
No one should stay in their marriage because they’re afraid divorce will traumatize their child. In fact, parents who stay together “for the sake of the child” often end up doing them more harm than good because they create a toxic environment – and one in which one or more types of abuse may occur.
Being aware that divorce can be an ACE should give responsible parents the incentive to work towards a peaceful, amicable divorce where they keep the best interests of their children front and center. Having experienced legal guidance can help significantly.