Back in the day, divorce wasn’t what it is today. It was never just a “thing”. Divorce was, in a sense, a taboo. But if they did, society would look down upon them, and the women would be left with nothing. The husbands would take the house, the money, and in most often cases, leave the kids. There were no divorce laws, stating that each side gets fifty-fifty. Or joint custody. Nor was there any alimony. Society was extremely unfair to both men and women, stripping them of their basic human rights. It’s now looked at as an overly-fair, easy way out of a marriage one does not care for anymore. However, in the world we live in today, most couples choose not to divorce, whether it is because of the money, or because they do not want the children to have to go through the difficulties of a divorce. Though divorce has clear negative repercussions on children, including stunted cognitive and social abilities and stressed family ties, the complete dismissal of divorce could harm children even more severely, due to the constant conflict and possible abuse. In actuality, if parents properly guide their child through the divorce, it can result in a stronger bond between the child and each of his or her parents.
The average divorce rate in America is about 3.4. That’s more than twice the amount it was ten years ago, in 2002, when it was 1.4. According to The Daily Beast, “if you’re a married American, your marriage is between 40 to 50 percent likely to end in divorce.” 50% of all North-American children will witness the divorce of their parents. Almost half of them will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. 40% of children growing up in America today are being raised without their fathers. 50% of all the children born to married parents today will experience the divorce of their parents before they are 18 years old. Children that are living with both biological parents are 20 to 35 percent physically healthier than children from broken homes. Children of divorce tend to be more aggressive toward others. This is especially the case for boys. While so much attention is given to the negative effects of divorce on children, what about the effects of children living in a broken home?
Many studies have examined the effects of divorce on children, specifically young children, and the some of the most common results found were that the children had problems with cognitive and social abilities, behavior, attachment to mother, emotional adjustment, and gender-role orientation. Children with non-intact families did not perform as well on tests of cognitive and social development at 15, 24, and 36 months old, than those with intact families. At 15 months old, children with divorced parents were less securely attached to their mothers and showed less positive behaviors when interacting with their mother. Furthermore, these children had poorer social abilities and more behavior problems at 24 and 36 months old (Baer, Hoffman, & Mooney). Other studies have also shown that about 20-25% of children from non-intact families have serious problems with their cognitive and social abilities, whereas only about 10% of children in two-parent households share the same issues. These problems with their social and cognitive abilities later on cause the children to have issues in their intimate relationships. Also, gender-role orientation is a problem that arises at a very young age for the children with separated parents, due to the fact that they are missing a certain parental role in their lives, whether it is their mother or their father.
Even if they do have split custody, children need to have both parents around at all times during the crucial early stage of development, because they learn from the people they are around the most. Divorce also has its major effects on older children. Most of the older children have already grown out of the vital early developmental stages; therefore, they are more prone to anxiety, depression, problems with their spouses later in life, and wonder how their lives would be different if their parents had stayed together. One study done by Billings & Emery (2000) where 193 college students -99 came from divorced families and 94 came from intact two-parent families- were asked about their feelings towards The Painful Feelings About Divorce , and it was found that the students from divorced families showed more distress about their childhood than those from intact families. There were also greater signs of anxiety and depression in those who came from non-intact families than those who came from two-parent families. Another study done by Ahrons looked at children of divorce 20 years after the divorce occurred. Ahrons interviewed 173 grown children between the ages of 21 and 52.
The question that she sought to answer was, “What impact does the relationship between parents have on their children 20 years after the divorce?” (Ahrons, 2007). The findings were that the parents’ relationship still impacts the family, even after 20 years after the divorce. A total of 52% of the participants were either currently married or had been previously married, 29% had divorced, and of the participants that had divorced, 17 of them remained unmarried. Thus concluding that divorce not only effects young children, but also older children, and that these divorces affect the children even after 20 years after the divorce occurred. Of the many different relationships people form over the course of the life span, the relationship between parent and child is among the most essential relationships. The quality of this parent-child relationship is mainly affected by the stability of the parents’ marriage. However, if the parents’ marriage is nothing close to stable, it causes the parents to “alienate” their child or children.
This parental-alienation usually causes the children to be brainwashed, and turned against the parent they once loved, or to be used as valuable battle allies in efforts to hurt the other parent (Wallerstein & Kelly, 1980). However, Gardner stated in his essay on Parental Alienation Syndrome (1992), “The concept of Parental Alienation Syndrome includes much more than brainwashing. It includes not only conscious but subconscious and unconscious factors within the preferred parent that contribute to the parent’s influencing the child’s alienation. Furthermore, [and this is extremely important], it includes factors that arise within the child – independent of the parental contributions – that foster the development of this syndrome.” Meaning that the child’s preferred parent not only consciously, but also unconsciously and subconsciously causes the other parent to alienate the child. This Parental Alienation Syndrome causes the child to be obsessed with the hatred of the alienated parent, and the hatred takes on a life of its own in which the child may justify the alienation as a result of “minor altercations experienced in the relationship with the hated parent” (Stahl, 1999).
In other words, little arguments or confrontations from the hated parent. As mentioned before, this parent-child relationship is extremely vital, due to the fact that most children are still in the key stages of development (from the first 24 months of life, up until they are about 9-12 years old), where the children begin to think, learn, absorb, comprehend, and analyze the world around them. Therefore, because they learn so much during these stages of development, if a parent-child relationship is in place, along with a stable marriage, the child will most likely perform better in school, be more socially active, and will have better intimate relationships later in life (Tromley, 2010). Compared with adults in a stable marriage, divorced adults, on average, have poorer physical and mental health. They experience more social isolation, and after a few years, stop having regular contact with their children. For some divorced adults, new romantic relationships help rebuild self-esteem and happiness, but for others, new romantic relationships end up producing greater feelings of loneliness, unhappiness, and lower self-esteem.
Many individuals also end up continuing to be dependent on their ex-spouses and look to them for emotional support, despite the fact that the legal ties have been broken. Some adults thrive and others struggle after a divorce. That could be due to one or more of the following reasons. Firstly, they have broken away from a high-conflict marriage and they are still emotionally and mentally struggling to get away from that relationship. Secondly, they might have problems with embracing change, especially since divorce is normally a life-changing situation. Thirdly, the person might be insecure and/or be attached to the ex-spouse, making it harder for the person to move out, move on, and form a new, healthier relationship. Individuals who are ending a marriage with chronic, high conflict or violence, on average, are happier over time (Waite, 2007). Escaping the stress of a high-conflict relationship and the personal threat to safety, not surprisingly, can lead to a better situation, even with the other challenges that often accompany divorce.
Embracing the life changing situation of divorce can be extremely stressful and anxious, but it is usually means an opportunity for change. Thus, helping many people struggling with this deal better with divorce, and embrace the opportunity to make changes in their lives (Gallagher, 2005). Insecure individuals-those who are emotionally dependent on their spouses and/or have a fear of abandonment- may also find it harder to adjust to divorce. After many years of research, it was found that insecure individuals are typically willing to stay in a marriage, even if they are not satisfied with the marriage. Therefore, these insecure and attached individuals tend to have a harder time adjusting to life after the divorce (Waite, 2007). For some people, leaving a very difficult marriage is a path-albeit a difficult one- to building a better, happier life. However, for many others, divorce trades one set of challenges for another. Overall, researchers have found -as mentioned before- that compared to adults in a stable marriage, divorced adults have poorer health and mental health.
The findings document how hard the process of family breakdown can be on adults, not just children. Some of the physical and emotional problems that are more common among divorced individuals compared to married individuals include: happiness, depression, health, and alcohol and drugs (Phillips). Divorced adults are generally less happy. They are also more vulnerable to depression and have higher levels of psychological stress and poor self-esteem. Divorced individuals see doctors more often and are more likely to suffer from serious illness. And divorced adults drink more alcohol than married adults and account for the highest portion of heavy drinkers; this is especially true for men. For children, divorce can be stressful, sad, and confusing. At any age, kids may feel uncertain or angry at the prospect mom and dad splitting up. Jocelyn Block mentioned this in her essay, Children and Divorce, “However, parents can make the process and its effects less painful for their children.
Helping the children cope with the divorce means providing stability in the home and attending to the child’s needs with a reassuring, positive attitude.” Some of the best aids parents can provide to their children in dealing with the divorce, so that it is not a life altering decision, include: telling the truth, saying “I love you”, addressing changes, avoiding blaming the other parent, being patient, giving assurance and love, and listening. Telling the kids the truth, saying “I love you”, and addressing changes, allows the children to better understand what is going on, they feel loved and the kids know that their parents’ love did not change, and shows the children that their lives might change, but it is only for the better. By avoiding blaming the other parent, parents can be honest with their kids, without being critical of their spouse, showing the children that they are respectful and loving towards their spouse. If the parents are patient, give assurance and love, and listen to their children, it allows the children to heal faster because they feel the support that is being given, and the support they so desperately need.
Most people think that there is nothing positive about divorce, as the negative effects are more obvious and talked about. However, “divorce can be a positive thing when the marriage is in high conflict and the children are exposed to violence, abusive substances etc.” (Naomi Richards). It is not anywhere near healthy for children to be in an environment where they see a lack of respect and trust. Often when the child has been a victim of domestic violence, then that child will grow up disliking societies’ vices. For some families, being under one roof just does not work. The stress of long hours, commitments and strains can have huge impacts on their family lives. Also, no matter how hard the parents work at trying to keep the family unit together, they usually cannot do it. Separation happens, and when it does, it can be a good thing for an unhappy family, who knows that being apart is the best thing for the children. It can also bring relief for the children. If the parents have been very open and vocal about how they feel about each other in front of the kids, the children will no longer have to listen to the rows, shouting, screaming etc.
Very few divorces are friendly, but once the household situation is diffused by a family breakup and the daily problems have disappeared, the children benefit because they are no longer living and breathing a situation that has been hurting them emotionally, and possibly physically. They no longer need to take sides. They no longer are in the middle of constant bickering and arguing. They no longer have to listen to the two people they love the most, say hateful things to each other. The children in these broken homes can feel the pain and the suffering that the parents are going through, but that is all masked with arguments, conflicts, and in some cases, abuse. A little piece of these kids’ love dies, when they see the two people they love so greatly, dispute and disagree. These children are more afraid than anything. They are essentially being abused, whether it is physically or emotionally, and maybe even spiritually. They are fearful as to what is going to happen to their parents. Fearful that they might not be loved. Fearful that they might pick the wrong parent to live with. Fearful that they might lose one, if not both, of their parents.
The only thing children ask for is love, affection, compassion, and acceptance. But they will never receive that if they continue to live in the damaged houses they live in. One final positive aspect of divorce is that the children get to develop individual relationships between each parent. According to Parental Rights.org, “Parents play an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children. This vital relationship positively impacts a child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being…” However, in the case that the family is living in a broken household, the parents are either constantly arguing, or are too “alienated” to speak to one another; therefore, making it difficult for the parents to play that irreplaceable role in their children’s lives. In simpler terms, the parents are so consumed with dispute and trying to make the marriage work, that they forget about this oh so important relationship. But with divorce, the children are taken out of their unstable homes, and are able to, “Reestablish and restore their relationships with their mothers and fathers, without the other parent getting in the way…” (Kreider & Caspe).