Does divorce usually lead to long-term negative consequences for children?
Effects of Divorce
The effects divorce has children have been studied by many different psychologists over the years. These researchers have drawn varying conclusions based off their findings. The response of children to divorce depends on several factors. These include the child’s age, gender, and the amount of conflict between the parents. In addition, these effects are attributed to whether or not the child lives full time with one parent or there is a joint-custody arrangement.
The child’s age is an important factor as it points to their understanding and maturity. Mary Temke of the University of New Hampshire attests to this in her article, “The Effects of Divorce on Children.” Toddlers, for instance, often blame themselves for their parent’s divorce. They may see the divorce as the consequence of their misbehavior. On the other hand, adolescents may be moody, or cope by taking special responsibility for the family. Furthermore, teens may favor one parent, blaming the other for the divorce.
Furthermore, the gender of the child plays a role as boys’ and girls’ response to the situation can vary. Temke writes that children raised by parents of the same sex tend to have greater success adjusting to the divorce than those who are raised by a parent of the opposite sex. Tamke concedes, however, that the child’s relationship with the primary parent is of more importance than the possibility of being raised by a parent of the opposite sex.
In Chapter 7 entitled, “Understanding the Stress Responses of Children Caught in Postdivorce Conflict” from the book Divorce Wars: Interventions with Families in Conflict Elizabeth Ellis discusses the problem of divorce when the parents are in conflict. Ellis sites Janet Johnston’s study in 1980 in which she discusses the children’s age as an important factor in how they handle conflict. The tension between the parents would surface during visitation. The younger children often exhibit more emotional responses such as frowning and crying during contention. Children then go through a stage when they shy away from the fights between their parents or try to stop the fighting between them. However, when children reach the late elementary school years, avoiding the conflict tends to be a high priority. It is around this age that the child normally sides with one parent over the other.
In a study entitled “Effects of Father and Mother Parenting on Children’s Mental Health in High-and Low-Conflict Divorces” conducted by Irwin Sandler, Jonathan Miles, Jeffrey Cookston, and Sanford Braver the focus is on the child’s psyche and how it is affected by the divorce. This is influenced with the level of intimacy they have with their mother (who has custody and their father who has visitation rights and the conflict they have between them. Studies have shown the growing complications in the conflict between the parents, the effectiveness of their parenting, and the emotional stability of the child. Retrogression evaluations were used to see how the child internalized and externalized dilemmas. This study points to the age and sex of the child of the initial importance, followed by the parental intimacy with their child and the conflict with each other. This study shows that if the child has a good relationship with at least one parent, it is beneficial in a troubled divorce.
Divorce: Long-Term Consequences on Children
My research paper is about the possible consequences of divorce on children in the long-term. Being one of the children of divorced children, this topic immediately sparked my interest. In 2005, marriages within their first ten years suffered a 60% divorce rate. This statistic is extremely high and has possible negative effects on the children involved.
Throughout my research I have come across many different interesting facts regarding the effects of divorce on children later on in life. Three facts jumped out at me as the most shocking, and therefore the most interesting. This first is that the younger the child is during the divorce, the greater the likelihood of long-term negative consequences. Seeing as how most divorces occur during the first ten years of marriage means that there will be more children who will suffer in the long-term. Another interesting fact is that males are more negatively impacted by divorce than females. I found this interesting since females have long been considered the more “sensitive and emotional” of the two genders. This fact however supports the contrary. The third interesting fact that I came across is that individuals whose parents divorce at a young age are significantly more likely to marry young, divorce, remarry, and experience long-term difficulty with interpersonal relationships. This shows that divorce leads to divorce, which means that many generations will suffer the negative consequences of divorce.
(2004) Does divorce create long-term negative effects for children? Retrieved on December 4, 2008 from
This website had many facts and statistics on divorce and its effects on children. The site is very well organized also.
Rodriguez, H., & Arnold, C. (2008, October) CHILDREN & DIVORCE: A SNAPSHOT Retrieved on December 4, 2008 from
Another very interesting website, full of multiple statistics and consequences of divorce on children in the short, intermediate, and long-term.
Saposnek, D. T., (2002, February) How Are The Children Of Divorce Doing? Retrieved on December 4, 2008 from
This website presents the findings of two conflicting researchers: Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly. Both of these researchers came to different conclusions on the effects of divorce on children in the long-term.
Divorce: What It Really Does to the Children Involved
My paper is about the consequences of divorce on the children involved in it. I find this subject interesting because lots of my friends whose parents are divorced lead relatively normal lives, and it seems like the divorce does not affect them emotionally or mentally. This is important because many children are involved in divorce, and may be negatively affected because of it.
I found many facts that do prove that divorce negatively affects children involved in the divorce. For example, although most children of divorcees do not have teenage pregnancy or drop out of high school, children who have divorced parents are twice as likely to have a teenage pregnancy or drop out of high school than children who have married parents or parents that are still together (Arnold 1). Statistics also show that children who are involved with the divorce of their parents are more likely to have severed relationships with their parents rather than children whose parents are not divorced. Finally, children involved with divorce usually suffer from emotional trauma, economical problems, and troubles in school rather than in children whose parents are still married or together (Aylon).
Arnold, C. & Rodriguez, H. (1998, October). Children & Divorce: A Snapshot. Center for Law & Social Policy http://www.clasp.org/publications/children_and_divorce.htm
A source that gives many statistics on children who have been affected by divorce.
Aylon, O. & Adina, F. (1993). Chain Reaction: Children and Divorce. London: Briston, Penn.
Consequences of children who’ve been through divorce.
Jeynes, William. (2002). Divorce, Family, Structure, and the Academic Success of Children. New York : Haworth Press,
How divorce affects the structure of family and success of children in school.
Divorce and its Effects on Children
Does a divorce between parents have long lasting effects on children? If so, in what ways are they affected? Coming from a family of divorced parents, I have always been interested in what research says about this topic in comparison with my own personal experiences. It is important for these questions to be answered so that we are well aware of what our children go through in the event of a divorce.
There are a lot of aspects in a divorce that affect children in ways that aren’t always apparent. For instance, one of the most important things that a child feels while being raised in a happily married family is a sense of security. It’s difficult to maintain this sense of security during the traumatic events that take place during a divorce. Also, a divorce can cause children to become vulnerable when dealing with relationships of their own. Children of divorce have a desire to be wanted or appreciated, and may gain a skewed image of a healthy relationship. Finally, one of the most noticeable effects a divorce has on children is a gaining of resentment towards the parents. Often feeling cheated and caught in the middle, kids will often act out in ways that they would not normally do. These actions are all considered to be direct results of a divorce.
One of the sources that I found useful when doing my research was an article written by Alan L. Frankel, L.C.S.W, called Divorce and its Effects on kids, which outlined some of the things that children experience when dealing with a divorce. Also a book called, Children of Divorce, by Craig A Everett provided information about the role that children play in the family that is dealing with a divorce. Finally, one of my favorite sources was an interview with Robert Hughes, Jr, PhD, titled Divorce and Children. It provided answers to specific questions regarding the responses by children who go through a divorce. These and many other sources provided information from different perspectives that helped me gain understanding on the subject of divorce, and the long term effects it has on children.
Does Divorce Have an Effect on Children?
The topic I chose for my paper was divorce and whether it leads to long-term negative consequences for children or not. I found this topic very intriguing because I am actually a child of two divorced parents and have always wondered why I dealt with my parents’ divorce differently than other children of divorced parents. Also, I found this to be a good subject to research because of the large number of divorce that takes place in our country. If we knew the answer to this question, in the future we could help parents of broken marriages use the correct approaches when dealing with their divorce.
After all my research on divorce and its long term effects on children, I have realized now that there is no simple answer. The outcome of the divorce varies per family and because of several different factors. However, after reviewing my journal source, I realized that the marital status of being divorce, the amount of control the parents have, and the quality of the parenting skills are the factors that directly cause the largest amount of negative effects on a child’s behavior. Furthermore, the sex of the parent with custody, the economic strain in the household, co-parental conflicts, and the custodial parent’s difficulty in coping with their multiple roles are the factors that indirectly cause a smaller amount of negative effects on the child. I also learned that when children experience negative effects from divorce they experience it in two different ways, by internalizing and externalizing behavior. When a child is internalizing they seem to have too much control over t heir emotional state and express it by being shy or by depression. When a child is externalizing they don’t have control over the emotions they are feeling and they will express them by being aggressive and acting out. Therefore, while the effect divorce has on children varies family to family, sibling who experience the same divorce would most likely have the same effects since they come from the same family circumstances. Also, depending on the age of the child, they may experience different ways of dealing with the divorce and then these ways can turn into other outcomes after years pass. For instance, females seem to adapt to divorce easier than males but when they get older they are the ones that are most impacted by the divorce when it comes to their own intimate relationships.
Eloff, S. (2008, January 20). “An Exploration of the Ramifications of Divorce on Children and Adolescents.” The Child Advocate: Divorce Effects on Children. The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from http://www.childadvocate.net/divorce_effects_on_children.htm
This website article will be interesting because it lists all the different effects divorce has on children due to their age group. Therefore, if you’re looking for the effects divorce would have on a particular child you could see the most likely effects by looking up their age.
Frazee, K., Mailloux, M., Atkinson, E., Smith, S., Ungurian, P., Davison, M., & Buckle, A. (2004). Does Divorce Create Long-term Negative Effects for Children? Retrieved November 20, 2008, from http://dmental04.tripod.com/
This website would be good to check out because it explains a more simple study where they receive their results straight from observing the children. The study they explain collected their results from talking with the child and observing their behavior.
Hilton, J. M., and Derochers, S. (2002). Children’s behavior problems in single-parent and married-parent families: Development of a predictive model. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage,Vol. 37 (13-33).
This would be an excellent reference to look up and read if interested in the subject. The journal is credible and gives a great amount of information on the topic. It also has an excellent, thorough study that takes place which give significant, detailed results. The study also lists all the facts that contribute to the different effects divorce has.
Meyer, C. (2008). “Myths Surrounding Children and Divorce.”About.com: Divorce Support. About.com. Retrieved November 20, 2008, from http://divorcesupport.about.com/od/childrenanddivorce/p/childrenmyths.htm
I think this online article will catch a lot of people’s interest because it goes over common, false beliefs people have over divorce and the contradicting truths. Therefore, you can receive basic knowledge by this article and correct common, yet false, beliefs you may have.
Long Term Effects of Divorce on Children
Divorce is a controversy that is studied expensively as it is becoming more common in the United States. The children are the main aspect of this split relationship that are affected, however the severity of the effects are dependent on several variables. I became interested in this subject because my parents recently filed for divorce and I wanted to know how it would affect me now, as well as in the future.
Divorce can have a considerable effect on the children involved in the failing marriage and can be expressed in a number of ways depends on age and sex. According to Tempke (2006), children aged three through five will often blame themselves for the break up; children six through twelve are likely to fall into a state depression and/or act out repeatedly as well as randomly. Children aged thirteen through eighteen commonly are rushed into adulthood and have life-long emotional issues. The other factor is sex, girls usually find it easier, but will have emotional difficulty later in life. Boys on the other hand are likely to become aggressive and violent towards others, physically and emotionally (Oppawsky, 2000). The best way to eliminate the display of these effects is for a parent to ease children into the situation with a heavy emphasis that it is not their fault. It is also important not to discuss problems regarding the other spouse with their children, but instead look to a therapist or friend for help (Eleoff, 3).
Grych, H. John; Fincham D. Frank. (1992). Interventions for Children of Divorce: Toward Greater Integration of Research and Action [Electronic Version]. Psychological Bulletin, Volume III, 434-454. Retrieved November 21, 2008 from EBSCO host; University of Massachusetts Library: South Campus.
This journal article is beneficial because it discusses the effects of divorce in different context. It explains the effects in terms of the number a child is in the family and how that influences after effects.
Temke, W. Mary, Carman Rebecca (2006). The Effects of Divorce on Children [Electronic Version].. University of New Hampshire: Cooperative Extension, 1-2. Retrieved November 22, 2008, from Family and Human Resources at the University of New Hampshire. This journal article is helpful if trying to determine the specific age groups and the effects onchildren within those same age groups. It is useful because it explains what to expect from children of certain ages without over generalizing.
Oppawsky, Jolene (2000). Parental Bickering, Screaming, and Fighting: Etiology of the Most Negative Effects of Divorce on Children from the View of the Children[Electronic Version].. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, Vol. 32, 142-147.
This journal article discusses the common emotions that are associated with children in a
divorce and what happens between children in parents in the stressful event.
When a marriage ends in divorce all individuals connected to the relationship are impacted. There are perhaps none so affected as children. Because of their innocence and immaturity, children are unable to process stressful events as adults are. Their reactions and behavior can range from subtle to explosive. The purpose of this paper is to provide research that illuminates that various facets of impact upon a child with the demise of a marriage. Relationships with parents, and sibling are all pivotal in the life of a child. These, along with therapeutic interventions, statistics, future outlook, and biblical underpinnings will be discussed. Finally, the author, an adult child of divorce, will provide personal reflection about the subject.
The ultimate end to a marriage is tragic and its affect ripples throughout the lives connected to that couple. Chaos and stress, probably feelings that have been prevalent for some time prior to divorce, ensue and impact the now divided family unit. Children are particularly vulnerable to the affects of divorce. Unable to understand and process such complex matters of life, children resort to alternative ways of expressing their heartache and confusion. The fact is that the divorce of parents remains with children, to some degree, all of their lives. Any adult child of divorce can relay past feelings that accompanied the demise of their caretaker’s marriage. Regardless of the passage of time, few children of divorce are unable to provide some recollection of pain. Relationships are often strained, physiology and psychology is affected, and the future can seem bleak. When we understand the gravity with which a child is impacted by divorce, the hope is that couples will devote energy toward any and all opportunities to salvage the marriage.
In the quest to understand the full impact of divorce upon children, one must examine current trends and statistics. Consider some sobering data (Portnoy, 2006):
- Around 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.
- Approximately one-half to two-thirds of those who divorce will remarry.
- One in every six adults will divorce two or more times.
- Half of all divorces involve minor children.
- Forty percent of children in the United States will experience a parental divorce and half of those will reside, at least temporarily with a single parent.
- One in three of these children will live with a step-parent before the age of 19 .
- According to the 2004 U.S. Census, 1.1 million children lived with a parent who had experienced a divorce in the last year (Thomas & Woodside, 2011).
Ten years following a divorce, well adapted college students reported a continuance of pain and distress about their parents’ divorce (Kelly & Emery, 2003). They reported more painful childhood feelings and experiences. Feelings of loss were the most prevalent of the painful feelings. Further, the majority of these students reported missing their father’s involvement, evening questioning whether they were loved by their father at all (2003).
Manifestations of Stress
Faber and Wittenborn (2010) report that on average, children in divorced families and stepfamilies, as compared to those in non-divorced families, are more likely to exhibit behavioral and emotional problems, lower social competence and self-esteem, less socially responsible behavior, and poorer academic achievement. The fact is that the disruption of the family unit causes an inability to concentrate, remain emotionally stable, and move through daily activities without some form of distress. As previously discussed, children are unable to comprehend the details of divorce and many result in false assumptions, such as “This must be my fault.” When outward expressions of distress are not displayed, many children will exhibit physiological symptoms. These can range from headaches, gastrointestinal upset, sleep disturbances, and inattention. Depending upon the level of secure or insecure attachment, these manifestations may be more or less severe. “Insecurely attached children have been associated with externalizing problems such as delinquent behavior and substance abuse as well as internalizing problems such as anxiety, depression, and other affective disorders (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010, p. 92).” Further, increased levels of parental conflict may lead to increased long-term vulnerability to cardiovascular and other illness (Luecken & Fabricius, 2003). Parental conflict, perceptions of father caring, and time with mother are significant predictors of overall physical health (2003). “This is consistent with findings that adolescents from divorced families with low conflict reported fewer physical health symptoms and better overall well-being than those from high conflict, intact families (p.226).” Divorce may also directly affect aggression, distractibility, behavior problems directed at parents, economic difficulties, and geographic mobility (Hodges, Tierney & Buchsbaum, 1984).
The first few years following a divorce are typically a difficult and stressful period for most children and their parents (Faber & Wittenborn, 2010). It is estimated that families typically re-stabilize parenting practices and pre-transition levels of children’s behavior about 2 years following divorce and 5 years following remarriage (2010). After the divorce, children typically will respond in atypical ways. The behavior variances are unique to the family and individual child, but often display symptomatic distress in their circumstantial change. Verbal cues, play themes, transitional o jects and aggressive or withdrawn behavior may one or all be exhibited by the child. A six year old child explained divorce in this way,
“It starts with love, then you don’t live together, then you get unmarried, then you love other people, go back and back and back and forth and back and forth.” As he chanted the last phrase, he picked up a Slinky from his own toy box and slowly stretched it, gesturing toward the playhouses on either side of him. With the Slinky fully extended, he concluded, “and then . . . you break.” With that, he let the Slinky snap close and crash to the floor between the houses. (Ebling, Pruett & Pruett, 2009, p. 672)
Children who are not as verbally expressive, often convey stress in imaginative play themes. During playtime, some themes that are often depicted by children are reunion fantasies, damage and conflict, security and protection, and back and forth travel between households (Ebling, Pruett & Pruett, 2009). The most frequent play theme are reunion fantasies.
Another way that children display grief, loss, and stress is in that of transitional objects (McCullough, 2009). Children often respond to divorce with insecurity, loss of self-esteem, and repressed feelings of anger and loss, which may be manifested as aggressive or withdrawn behavior.
During periods of extreme stress, children may return to the use of transitional objects—more typically seen in the developmental period associated with an infant’s separation from his or her mother—as a way of coping with circumstances over which they feel little control (p. 19).
Transitional objects can be stuffed animals, blankets, dolls, etc. Anything that provides the child with a sense of security and comfort can be transitional object. Often times, transitional objects can become personified objects. “As a child’s need for a security object decreases with increasing maturity, a transitional object may become imbued with personality and agency and emerge as a personified object.” (Gleason & Sebane 2000, p. 420) An object is personified when the child incorporates traits that are human personality oriented. The blanket, doll, stuffed animal, or imaginary friends are animated and utilized for role-playing. These can be a source of support and stress relief for children of divorce. It should be noted that many children have transitional or personified objects who are not under stress.
Because feelings of shame, decrease in self-esteem, self-blame, anxiety and fear of abandonment may be prevalent for the child of divorce, children from divorced homes often perform academically worse than peers (Crow, Ward-Lonergan, 2003). An inability or difficulty concentrating due to anxiety and worry is not uncommon. Health issues that have resulted from anxiety can also cause a disturbance in sleep and ability to focus on school work. Fortunately, with time and therapeutic interventions, most children are able to learn to cope with the grief and stress of divorce.
With the tremendous influx of divorced families, therapeutic techniques have vastly improved in helping children cope with the stress and grief they face. Therapies, support groups, role-playing, and picture books are all great resources to assist the child in coping. Utilizing such tools gives children impacted by divorce an age appropriate view of the complex nature of divorce. When a child begins to understand and is allowed to grieve, express emotion, and verbalize their anxieties, he or she has a greater chance to be relieved of the extreme pressure and stress that can impact for the duration of his or her life.
Fictional picture books provide children “an alternative channel of interpreting divorce by emotionally distancing themselves as story characters and expressing their feelings vicariously.” (Mo, 2007, p.23) Picture books allow children to understand the complexities of divorce at a visual level that is appealing and age appropriate in comprehension. The illustrations provide children the chance to express feelings associated with divorce (2007).
Family therapy, psychotherapy techniques, play therapy and role-playing, art therapy and grief therapy are all models that have been incorporated into work with children of divorce (McCullough, 2009). Each method has benefits and advantages, depending upon the individual and family. Another form of intervention that has been found effective is group therapy. Group therapy attempts to “communicate with children on issues of importance, providing support, enhancing their skill development, and promoting their mental health” (Rose, 2009, p. 227). The three major advantages of group therapy in helping children of divorce are:
- Most schools and human service organizations are faced with large numbers of children who can benefit from help, thus working in groups is an efficient use of resources.
- The group work context normalizes the divorce experience and provides support to children who need it.
- Divorce raises many uncomfortable issues for children. Many children are more comfortable discussing these issues with peers present than they are in dyadic interaction with social workers. (Rose, 2009, pp. 222-223)
One final element of therapeutic help for children can begin with parents. Parenting education can equip parents in helping them meet the needs of their children during the stressful time during and following divorce (Kelly & Emery, 2003)
One of the most visible results of stress in a divorce is that of relationships. Obviously, there is a demise in the relationship between the parents, but the relationships directly with the children are now critical and must be recognized and supported. Some of the less obvious strains upon such relationships are economic, concerns of loyalty, parental conflict, and the previous level of nurturance prior to divorce. Children often feel they are caught in the middle of their parent’s conflict (Gilman, Schneider & Shulak, 2005). Children living with parents who seek to contain and/or resolve their conflicts, will fare much better over the course of time than children who live in the midst of parental conflict (2005). At the same time, children who continue a warm and loving relationship with parents and feel that their parents understand their experience will also fare better than children who have a less nurturing relationship with their parents (2005).
Children’s responses should be considered during the aftermath of divorce, and how well a child is functioning or not functioning should not be based on a parent’s need or self-interest to perceive fewer negative effects. (Moon, 2011, p. 348)
Children want to be understood. They want to be listened to. And finally they want to be able to express their feelings, which are just as real and raw as their parent’s.
Children are naturally indwelt with the need for both parents. The mother figure fulfills a set of needs and the father figure likewise. In the case of divorce, eighty-five percent of children from divorced homes live with their mothers. (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010) The mother-child relationship may be one of the few relationships which remains intact throughout the divorce and remarriage process. Mom is primary caregiver in almost all cases of divorce. This can be highly beneficial, but can also place tremendous strain upon the relationship with the child and the father. The type of relationship children have with their fathers, following the divorce “can either contribute to children’s resiliency or add additional risk.” (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010, p. 90)
Due to this fact the mother plays the strongest part in meeting the child’s needs post-divorce. But, considerations of sensitivity and security are often overlooked.
Faber and Wittenborn (2010) eloquently state,
Parents who are sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs induce feelings of support and felt security within the child. These children tend to be classified as securely attached; as such they appear confident that support is available from their caregiver during times of need. Parents who are inconsistent in their response to their child’s needs often have children who display feelings of anxiety, vigilance, and anger. These children are typically classified as anxious/ambivalent and are unable to readily receive comfort from their caregiver in times of distress. When parents are habitually rejecting or not emotionally responsive to their child’s needs, they often have children who are prematurely self-reliant and repress feelings of vulnerability. These children are usually classified as avoidant and do not trust their caregiver to be supportive during times of distress. Disorganized children often experience their caregivers’ behaviors as frightening or experience maltreatment and tend to exhibit inconsistent or incoherent patterns of interacting. (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010, p. 91)
It is absolutely essential for mothers to allow children the ability to express their emotions, fears, and concerns. Further it is imperative that consistency, sensitivity, and openness are offered regularly. Structure and security are foundational to the health and healing for children of divorce.
It is an undeniable fact that the court’s preference for mother’s often limits the interaction with healthy, well-intentioned, caring fathers. Fathers often relay a sense of discouragement regarding “legal practitioners and a legal child custody system which they perceived to be biased against fathers as the reason why they were unable to obtain what they desired.” (Kruk, 2010, p. 164)
The responsibilities of social institutions to support fathers in the fulfillment of their parenting responsibilities is a largely overlooked issue in the child custody discussion, which has largely focused on the competing rights-based claims of parents; a child-focused framework of child custody determination, focused on children’s needs, parental responsibilities in regard to these needs, and social institutional responsibilities to support parents in the fulfillment of their parental responsibilities, may offer a fresh approach to the issue. A principal finding of the present study is that fathers who wish to maintain a responsible, active parentalrole in the care of their children are discouraged from doing so, as the most common legal determination in disputed cases is non-residential fatherhood. (Kruk, 2010, pp. 173-174)
The separation of father and child often begins at the fall of the gavel. What is tragic is that children are often used as pawns in a game of gotcha between parents. Someone always loses, often mothers, sometimes fathers, always children. The children’s level of contact with their father can vary greatly. Some children are allotted regular weekly contact, others once a week, and still others only see their fathers every other weekend (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010). And some children have little or no contact with their fathers. Positive father involvement following divorce has been associated with higher psychological scores, higher self-esteem, and lessened behavioral problems (2010). However, a sudden loss in daily contact with fathers may lead to feelings of abandonment and anxiety about separation. Ultimately, the lack of involvement by a father may begin to force children to question and even alter their internal working model of their father (2010). It seems that indicators of positive father involvement are immediately evident post-divorce. A poor relationship is characterized by low contact and higher levels of conflict (Peters & Ehrenberg, 2008). Though all children need their fathers, there is evidence to suggest that girls, in particular, are especially impacted by the involvement of their father. Disruptions due to divorce may lead to an increase female’s interest in and dependency on males (McLanahan & Bumpus, 1988). Studies also suggest that positive paternal involvement in pre-school age children also leads to flexible attitudes toward male and female roles (Kruk, 2010). Attachment in either parent is only possible with a sufficient level of engagement, and changes in engagement after divorce affect accessibility and responsibility (Kruk, 2010).
And as paternal engagement is necessary for accessibility and responsibility, so quality of attachment is largely dependent on amount of contact. Strong and secure emotional attachments between fathers and their children are not possible without routine and meaningful contact, beyond the constraints of court-ordered “access” and “visiting.” There seems little doubt that current laws and social institutional policies and practices present barriers to responsible fatherhood involvement and father-child attachment after divorce. (Kruk, 2010, p. 176)
It is clear that with each increment of increased contact between children of divorce and their fathers, there is also an equal increase in young adults reporting closeness with their fathers. At the same time, when there is a decrease in contact, feelings of anger also correspond. (Kelly & Emery, 2003)
The relationship with siblings can be, both, stable and unstable for children of divorce. Siblings from the same marriage can increase bonds following divorce and many older children “adopt a caretaking role for younger siblings prior to their parents’ separation and are identified as the closest of all attachment figures in a child’s life.” (Shumaker et. Al, 2011, p.46) In one fifth of blended families, children have both stepsiblings and half-siblings (Ahrons, 2006). However, children often do not think of their stepsiblings as brothers or sisters (2006). Closeness between siblings often increases from the experience of going through the divorce of their parents together (Thomas & Woodside, 2011). The addition of siblings through remarriage can bring added joy to children of divorce, but can also increase feelings of abandonment for the new child.
One of the most traumatic elements of divorce for children is the constant change and lack of control in his or her surroundings. Not only is there a change in who they live with, but most often there is a change in where they live and the duration of time spent at each location. These are a few perspectives offered by children regarding the toll of transitioning between homes,
- “Back-and-forth makes me sick. I want to throw up—both ways.” Another child repeated a mantra throughout the play: “Too long a drive, too long a drive.”
- A 5-year-old girl transformed the toy Band-Aid into a tool to help the dolls figure out where they belonged: “This [Band-aid] tells you if you’re in the right house.”
- Another child focused so entirely on the ordeal of the travel process—stuffing each and every play item into the toy vehicle or her pockets, and then “driving” all over the house—that as soon as the dolls arrived at “dad’s house,” it was time to go back to “mom’s.” (Ebling, Pruett & Pruett, 2009, p. 675)
Children feel a loss of control about their situation. They are often not adequately informed about the divorce and the implications for their lives. Most often they are not consulted with about their living arrangements and often they don’t feel considered about their emotions and practical feelings (Kelly & Emery, 2003). They often feel they live in a divided world. “The lack of correlation between maternal and paternal involvement suggests that “Mom’s World” and “Dad’s World” are separate and disconnected (Finley & Schwartz, 2010, p. 516).
For children of divorce, it seems just as they are adapting to the new life beyond their parents marriage, new transitions arise. Living in a single-parent household is a temporary situation for most parents and children (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010). Approximately seventy-five percent of men and sixty-six percent of women eventually remarry. This can lead to further confusion and frustration for children of divorce as parents commonly respond to remarriage with a period of euphoria. They become more focused on their new marriage than on their parenting.
Children may perceive the introduction of a new parent and possibly step-siblings as a threat to the attachment bond shared with their mother. This threat may be further exacerbated by children perceiving their mothers as less supportive and available as well as more negative. These changes in the mother–child relationship have the potential to alter the child’s working models of his or her mother regarding her availability and responsiveness (Faber, Wittenborn, 2010, p. 94).
Most often children of divorce are able to adapt and move through the new normal of life following their parent’s divorce. But, studies show that adult children of divorce tend to earn less income, obtain less education, have more troubled marriages, weaker ties with parents, and display more psychological distress symptoms (Thomas & Woodside, 2011) One interesting conjecture about girls living with their single mothers was,
Daughters of single mothers learn that women are capable of managing a family alone. When faced with an unhappy marriage or a premarital pregnancy, they may be more likely than daughters from two- parent families to become single mothers (McLanahan, Bumpass, 1988, p. 133).
Parents must work to re-establish consistent rules, predictable expectations, and firm guidance and control (Johnston, 1990). Children feel out of control. They need boundaries that they can expect to help give security and the feeling that they know what to expect. This is true for children of intact families, but especially of children whose families have ended in divorce. Parents, post-divorce, must work to restore warm and harmonious relationships with their children (1990).
Studies seem to suggest that adult children of divorce may also develop higher levels of acute and chronic health problems in middle-age (Luecken & Fabricius, 2003) This can also be correlated with current income, education, and family support, which report statistically lower than children of intact families. It has been reported that declines in physical health in older adults were related to the combination of early parental separation (by death or divorce) and high levels of current stress (2003). Children of divorce also exhibit significantly more mental health issues than children from intact families (Strohschien, 2005).
Portnoy (2006) highlights several risk factors for children of divorce which will cause more distress that may lead on to adulthood. These include:
- Continuing conflict between the parents
- Diminished or incompetent parenting
- Loss of non-parental supportive relationships
- Remarriage and re-partnering
However, there are several characteristics that will lead children of divorce toward positive coping. These include:
- The presence of positive social supports
- Competent custodial parenting
- An involved and competent non-custodial parent(Portnoy, 2006, pp.129-130)
The Bible makes it clear that God is not partial to divorce. While it is allowable in cases of infidelity, it is not to be used as a “first option.” Even when all else seems to fail, God is always grieved with a broken covenant of marriage, and desires that the bride and groom reconcile whenever possible. Mark 10:11-12 (New International Version) states, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” God thinks divorce is a very serious decision. With divorce rates on the rise and the rapidity of the process in today’s age, God still considers divorce much more than the “end of chapter in life”. Western society treats marriage like a weekend at the movies; when the plot isn’t interesting enough or the characters lose their appeal, it’s time to walk out. It is important to note the there are genuine cases of complexity in marital discord. That is not a fact that the author wishes to undermine, but it is equally true that divorce is taken too lightly, both in society and, sadly, the church.
Though the Bible has much to say about divorce, there is nothing said about the impact of divorce upon children. However, Ephesians 6:4 (New International Version) states, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (emphasis added) If anything exasperates a child, divorce will. The Bible is clear that man is selfish. Almost always, divorce is a result of one or both parties not relinquishing his or her will about one or more issues. While marriage is usually never considered easy, with work, humility, and a relinquishing of selfish rights, it is possible in many circumstances to work differences out. It is vital to note that there are genuine, necessary cases that warrant a separation or divorce. (Physical danger to one or more parties in the home, rampant chemical, physical, or verbal abuse, and cases of blatant, continued adultery, provide justifiable, understandable, and biblical support in the consideration of divorce.)
My parents divorced when I was eight years of age. Though it was highly traumatic being initially separated from my father, he almost immediately proved to be an uninvolved father. My mother remarried and has stayed married to my step-father, who for all intensive purposes is my “dad”. My father, however, has married and divorced two more women after the demise of my mother’s marriage to him. I am now thirty-two years old and have no relationship with my father. I can report as an adult child of divorce, that my parent’s choices have impacted me, thus far, my whole life. Though I am not hindered by their divorce, I have had to work extremely hard to overcome maladaptive attitudes and patterns of behavior. It is only with the Lord’s help that this is even possible. I have now been married for almost thirteen years and have my own children. Throughout the various stages of my life I have been able to view my parent’s divorce in different ways. I continue to process the impact it has had upon me and now hold a strong fervor for marriage. Marriage is not easy. It takes more work than any relationship mankind forges, but it is necessary for us to learn, grow, and foster health into our marriages for ourselves and the sake of our children. I have no wish to make my parent’s mistakes. I have certainly made my own, but I refuse to allow the patterns of divorce and broken relationships to continue. With God’s help and the recognition of my past, I remain dedicated to my marriage and my children. Children are adaptable, with therapy, support from solid friends and family, and my faith, I have risen above the grief and trauma I faced as a child, resulting from my parent’s divorce. This should, however, never be used as justification for parent’s decision. The gravity of stress a child faces when their parents end their marriage is immense. That point cannot be stressed strongly enough.
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