Q. If we do decide to stay together until the children are older, "for their sake," when would be the least damaging time to go ahead with our divorce?
A. All children, regardless of age and gender, feel a short term impact resulting from their parents' divorce. Please consider the following general observations (they are ONLY general observations), often reported as descriptive behaviors or symptoms, by age:
Preschoolers: These children sometimes suffer sleep disturbances. They may have problems with toilet training and eating with utensils, and may forget skills they had earlier mastered.
5-6 years old: These children may throw temper tantrums and show other signs of increased aggression. They sometimes harbor feelings of self-blame and intense sadness.
6-8 years old: These children long for their parents' reconciliation. Like the preschoolers, they sometimes experience sleep disturbances. They also want to appear and be loyal to both parents.
9-12 years old: Conversely, these children feel and direct anger at both parents, but often side with one. They experience extreme feelings of embarrassment and mortification.
13-18 years old: These children experience more extremes than the 9-12 years old group, including extremely angry and blameful reactions. Interestingly, many of them worry about their personal finances and assets, and whether they would have to directly suffer the economic effects of the divorce. Loyalty conflicts are also observed to exist. Some of these youngsters are engaged in increasing sexual exploration. Others go into social withdrawal and may experience anxiety about their relationships.
The bottom line is that children experience short-term adjustments to separation and divorce at every age. There is no "right age," as far as the children are concerned, to divorce. One phenomenon I have observed rather often is the brooding contempt that many adult children have expressed "and I'm talking people in their thirties and forties" toward their elder parents, who waited until all the children were all married-off to announce their plans for not going into retirement together. Many of them believe that they were made to live a lie, and that their positive recollections of childhood were, in large part, orchestrated illusions.