I did not imagine my last post would cause so much discussion. I am thrilled that so many of you jumped into the fray and voiced your opinions about 5 Myths of Divorce Revealed. I approached the post by first thinking about some my preconceived notions about divorce and then began to research what others had to say. One of the most surprising revelations was the research and opinions about keeping the marriage together for the children. Myth #2, really got everyone talking.
Therefore I thought I would dig a little deeper and try to present my Fox News version of both sides of the story.
But first to be fair, let me talk about my experience as a child of divorce. I remember the day my parents sat me down to tell me they decided to split up our family. I was nine years old. They were very matter of fact about the situation. They tried to convey that it was not my fault and their decision was best for everyone. My mother moved out and my sister and I stayed with my dad.
Within 6 months my father had remarried. In the interim, my grandmother came to stay with us. My sister was only 2 years old. She doesn’t have many memories as a child of my Mom, but she enjoys a close relationship with her today.
The marriage with our first step-mother only lasted 3 years. After that marriage broke up, my grandmother came to live with us for the second time. And for a short time, between grandma and the second step-mother, we had a nanny. Less than a year after he split up with our first step-mother, he married again – and this new wife came with kids.
For me, the upheaval in my house had a profound effect on me. Between the ages of 9-12, I became withdrawn and moody. I think I even suffered from episodes of depression. I felt a loss of stability and structure that I have since struggled to regain. I believe that my self-confidence was affected and I would have rather had the worst of my mother than the hodge-podge of caregivers provided to me and my sister.
The thing is, we seldom heard my parents fight. When they announced their divorce, I had no idea anything was wrong. But after their divorce, it seemed everything went wrong. I have spent a lifetime trying to put myself back together again.
So there is the abridged version of my story, and I’m sure many of you have an idea of which way my sentiments lean, but I want to be fair and present both sides. I believe I did my due diligence in researching this topic.
Side A – Not Staying Together for the Children
Most experts cite the resiliency of children. Most believe that divorce will have a negative effect on children initially but the effects going forward have a lot to do with the way the parents and other adults in the child’s life deal with the divorce.
In a Time magazine article, Robert Emery, Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Children, Families and the Law says, “For the most part, kids from divorced families are resilient. They bounce back from all the stresses. Some kids are at risk, but the majority are functioning well.”
In fact, Dr. Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Penn State University points to most of scientific research which indicates that growing up as a product of divorce can put the child at risk for certain problems, but, it doesn’t necessarily doom the child to a “terrible life.” He goes on to say, “The fact of the matter is that most kids from divorced families do manage to overcome their problems and do have good lives.”
A popular author Stephanie Staal (The Love They Lost: Living with the Legacy of Our Parent’s Divorce) and child of divorce recalls that her parents tried to stick out. She commented that, the year her parents tried to stay together was horrible and although it was devastating when her parents divorced it doesn’t automatically mean that she wishes they would have stayed together.
So as you can see from the point of view of experts (professional and lay), many believe that children of divorce are no better or worse off than if their parents had stayed together.
In fact, when reading your comments and posters on other sites, almost everyone agrees that it is better for the child to grow up in a single parent home than to be subject to unhappy parents who fight all of the time. Most of you believe that a happy parent makes a better parent – even if it is in a single-parent home.
Side B –Staying Together for the Children
Next, let’s look at the point of view from the other camp.
One of the leading experts conveying the idea that parents should stay together whenever they can is Judith Wallerstein. Wallerstein, is a therapist and retired lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley. In the “Unexpected Legacy of Divorce,” she argues that the harm caused by divorce is graver and longer lasting than we suspected. Another popular book supporting the side for staying together is “The Case for Marriage,” by Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher (Doubleday) emphasizes the positive, arguing that even rocky marriages nourish children emotionally and practically.
There are two primary arguments for keeping the family together. First, children are not particularly concerned with the quality of their parent’s marriage. It is what the marriage represents to them that is most important. The marriage represents security and stability. It means never having to choose between parents or homes or families. It means not ever blaming themselves or having to split their love between parents.
Second, parents may feel such a great responsibility toward their children that they may be willing to renew their efforts to mend their marriage. Wallerstein says that by “putting our children’s interest at the forefront may allow us the strength to grow and develop as individuals to the degree that we can make new contributions to the healthiness of a marriage.” She goes on to say, “A successful marriage relationship usually involves growing beyond ourselves so as to be able to understand and accept our spouse more fully. That new understanding can allow us to diminish some of the negatives about our spouse and our marriage and instead to begin to genuinely see strengths and contributions we have overlooked. “
Divorce expert and Psychologist Neil Kalter supports Wallerstein through his assertion that even an unhappy marriage is less significant that the changes that occur for children after divorce. He says that most divorces are motivated by the need for “greener grasses,” and if parents would concentrate on working out their conflicts rather than cultivating their own happiness, the children would be better off.
It is documented that children of divorce suffer depression, learning difficulties and other psychological problems more frequently than those of intact families. Some of the long-term effects on children of divorce are intimacy problems, fear of having children, and fear of commitment in relationships. These facts were revealed by Mark Fine and John Harvey in their book “Children of Divorce: Stories of Loss and Growth.”
Many children of divorce will hold out for that perfect relationship only to be disappointed. They also tend to marry later in life and have higher rates of divorce than children whose parents stay together.
Side C – The Two Sides of Children of Divorce – Who is Right?
I don’t know that either side is right. I think your opinion on this subject has a lot to do with your own experience, where you are in your life right now, especially if you are newly divorced or have endured a difficult divorce.
I do believe that one of the most important factors for how well a child will adjust to divorce is how in tune the parent is to the child’s needs. Parents should be sensitive and consider the child’s age, and temperament, before, during and after the divorce. A preschooler will react much differently to divorce than a teenager. Over time, the way a child reacts to divorce is tied directly to how well the parent deals with and recovers from the divorce themselves.
Whether we decide to pull the plug or tough it out, constant and open communication with our children and spouses (current or former) may be the fundamental keys to navigating this bumpy road and producing emotionally healthy children in a less than ideal situation.