Skip to comments.Children of Divorce - New Study Explores the Nasty Effects
Posted on 10/15/2005 6:41:32 PM PDT by madprof98
CHICAGO, OCT. 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A quarter of U.S. adults ages 18 to 35 have grown up in divorced families. The impact of divorce on them is the subject of a new book, "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce" (Crown Publishers).
Author Elizabeth Marquardt surveyed 1,500 young adults from both divorced and intact families, and conducted in-depth interviews with more than 70 of them. Her conclusion: "While divorce is sometimes necessary, there is no such thing as a good divorce."
Marquardt acknowledges that children in high-conflict marriages, or in situations where there is violence, benefit from divorce. Such cases, however, involve only around one-third of divorces, and the children of the other low-conflict marriages fare worse after divorce. And, while noting that most parents take seriously the decision to divorce, Marquardt urges them to try even harder to preserve their marriages, given the costs involved for their children.
Even if a divorce is amicable, and the couple maintains a good relationship after separating, and even if they continue to love and care for the children, this does not eliminate "the radical restructuring of the child's universe," the author contends.
The moment when parents split is only the start of this restructuring. Around two-thirds of the children of divorce surveyed by Marquardt say they felt they grew up in two families, not one. Growing up in two worlds creates a whole series of problems, starting with the fact that both parents are no longer "insiders," or a part of the family.
In marriage, Marquardt explains, parents often have differences, but they work together to bridge them and they manage to give family life a unity. But a divorce often encourages the former spouses to define themselves in opposition to each other. Hence the beliefs and values of the two parents, instead of achieving an equilibrium, exist in parallel, creating contrasts and conflicts, rather than unity, for the children.
After the split, the conflict between former spouses may no longer be open, but the conflict between their two worlds is still very much alive, Marquardt observes. A child in a united family, by contrast, does not have to spend so much time and effort in reconciling the differences between parents, and can concentrate on enjoying daily life.
Thus, children of divorced couples are forced to enter into an adult world of responsibilities and worries at a young age. Marquardt's survey revealed that even among those children whose parents had managed their divorce well (in terms of reducing the impact on the kids) around half agreed that they always felt like an adult, even when they were young. This proportion reached two-thirds among children whose parents' divorces were more problematic.
Following a divorce, many of the children felt they had a responsibility to protect their mothers, and a substantial number had to take on greater duties in caring for their siblings. This also happens in families where a parent dies or is seriously ill; the difference with divorce is that the children know it comes about as a result of a voluntary choice on the part of at least one parent.
The way in which a divorce comes about also often wounds children, recounts Marquardt. In an ideal situation, the parents would gather the children together and carefully explain everything, and reassure them about the future. Yet, the breakup of a marriage is often messy and chaotic, making it difficult for the parents to organize well the initial announcement to their children, the author reports.
Moreover, the adults are often vulnerable and in grief or shock. It can be hard for children to see their parents in this situation. And it also means that just when the children are in need of comfort they are less able to turn to their parents for support.
Further problems arise in the post-divorce period, when children have to deal with the conflicts and criticisms between the former spouses. The young adults who grew up in divorced families told Marquardt how they felt obliged to be careful what they said to each parent about the other. Such information could lead to hurt feelings or trigger criticisms about the other parent.
Notably, Marquardt's book focuses on the impact of divorce on the moral lives of children. The children feel conflict as they experience different values and ways of life in each parent's separate household. The result is that the children now have to forge their own values and beliefs, the author contends.
Normally, children absorb their parents' values in a natural and gradual process, without having to make a conscious effort. Clearly, there are often differences between parents, but on the whole the children see their parents' values as complementary. And the parents normally work together, backing up each other's authority.
But the young adults studied by Marquardt rarely thought of their parents' values as unified. Differences on small matters such as household routines or disciplinary norms, or more important subjects such as moral values and ambitions for their children, grow wider after divorce. This leaves the children confused, and faced with the task of having to construct their own values in the midst of this conflict.
The differences between the two households means more that just an uncomfortable social situation, where we don't want to offend someone, Marquardt comments. The conflicts are between the two most important people in a child's life -- and these crossed signals go to the heart of a child's identity.
One consequence is that of the children interviewed, 24% of those from divorced families say they do not share the similar moral values with their fathers. And 17% felt the same about their mothers. This compares with children from intact families, where only 6% say they do not share similar values with their parents.
Asked about where they got their sense of right and wrong, children of divorce will name mothers, but rarely fathers. Requiring such children to forge their own values, Marquardt concludes, might help to explain why they have higher rates of problems such as substance abuse, teen pregnancy and delinquency.
Another finding of the study is that today's young adult children of divorce are less religious overall than their peers from intact families. Sometimes the suffering caused by their parents' divorce leads them to question their belief in God. Others are motivated to seek answers to their doubts in religious faith, but the process can be a struggle.
Overall, the young adults from divorced families are less likely to feel religious or to practice their faith as those from intact families. They are also more likely to doubt the sincerity of their parents' faith.
Marquardt concludes by observing that children require strong, lasting marriages in order to have the secure home they need while growing up. They are not like property that can be divided, but need love, stability and moral guidance. This means making changes to our thinking about marriages. Parents, she pleads, must not just love their children but must also love and forgive each other, to sustain families that last a lifetime.
Few reasons for divorce that make sense:
1) Abuse of spouse or children
2) Addictive behavior--drugs, booze, gambling, sex
4) Spouse converts to Islam
That's what the TODAY show psychologists tell us...
Which is only one of MANY reasons I don't watch that show.
5)Irresponsible or impulsive spending of family income.
Money is one of the biggest rifts in many marriages.
Children should be taught to be better money
managers by the time they become adults and not make
materialism a top priority over their
relationship with their spouse and family.
I'll bet that some kids from a divorced family come out better than some in a miserable marriage or over protecting parents.
That thought consoles people, but the evidence really doesn't support it. Kids don't really care how their parents feel about each other. They care how their parents feel about THEM. And the way you show you love them is to stay with them no matter what.
One point that I remember from another books about divorce, was that even when the divorce was for survival reasons - spousal abuse, drug addiction, promiscuous infidelity - it was still very difficult for young children to understand.
You can't explain, "He contracted HIV from sleeping around with trash of mixed gender," to a 7-year-old. All the child understands is that one parent is gone, he's probably had to move away from his school and his friends, his mother has no money, etc.
By the time the child "understands," he or she has already repeated (or worse) the behaviors which led the marriage to collapse to begin with.
That's a good point. An early example of alcoholism or abuse seems to have a very strong influence. In that situation, whether the parents divorce or not, it's a losing proposition for the children.
There are tons of kids who grow up in single family homes.Or divorced homes. They survive, just fine. There are no parents fighting, creating angst.
I doubt many of us had " the perfect childhood".
And if they don't, well, hey, who the hell cares!?!
Unless, of course, mom is a lesbian.
I think it's best for everyone to take responsibility for what he or she does. But there's no denying that it much more LIKELY that a child in a single-parent home will engage in more destructive and self-destructive behavior than a child from an intact family. That's just the plain truth. Evidently it is easier for kids to do well when they have all the resources (not so much financial as emotional) that being raised with two parents in the home provides them.
Well madprof....I don't think I agree.
Loving the children's mother or father is essential for the healthy nurturing of the child. Mostly we learn to love from our parents love for us and their love for each other.
My wife's family had a great deal of criticism of the mother and it really screwed up the kids. Whenever I'd visit the #1 phrase I'd hear was, "Aw Ma!"
The father was always belittling her in front of the kids and they learned to do it too. It affected the whole household's attitude toward each other.
The daughters grew up determined not to let anything like that ever happen to them....and I married one of them...very defensive at any criticism.
I agree with that. But I also think (and I believe the studies confirm this) that kids generally do better in households where the parents self-describe as "unhappily married" than they do in households where the parents have split up. Years ago, people used to "stay together for the sake of the children." More recently, in the age of ME/MYSELF/I, they decided that was too stressful and rationalized their behavior by claiming the kids were badly affected by their own unhappiness. Maybe, maybe not. But almost always, the kids get hurt much, much more badly when their parents divorce.