From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Think twice about divorce
During the 1970s and 1980s,
conventional wisdom rationalized the consequences of divorce on children with
the thought that children were better off living in happy single parent homes,
than in less happy two-parent homes that were filled with marital conflict.
However, today’s research suggests a very different picture. As our
understanding about the long-term effects of divorce is revealed, committed
parents need to take another look before deciding to discard their marriage.
For those who are already divorced, it is hoped that these thoughts will help
with the vital tasks of co-parenting.
protects the physical, emotional, educational and nutritional needs of children.
For some time, we have known that wives and children of divorce are
more likely to experience poverty. However, we have only recently begun to
understand the full implications of this poverty. From a health perspective,
lack of money translates into less regular medical check-ups and less money
spent on food. A decade of evidence demonstrates that children of divorce are
often more depressed and aggressive toward their parents and teachers. On the
whole, they are less likely to attend college. And these young people tend to
become sexually active at earlier ages, they are more likely to abuse drugs,
turn to crime, and they are even more likely to commit suicide.
The so-called sleeper
effects of divorce. For the rest of their lives, children are affected
by their parents’ divorce. Noted researcher, Judith Wallerstein, describes how
the ghost of divorce resurfaces later in life. At a time when most young people
are finding their intended mates and committing to permanent relationships,
children of divorce often experience a resurgence of deep and long-term
emotional problems when confronted with issues of romance and marriage. In the
effort to avoid repeating the mistakes made by their parents, these young people
often behave in ways that are erratic and self-defeating. Some may choose
partners for reasons other than love and commonality, others may run from
conflict, and still others, live with the unconscious fear that their family
will collapse, just as it did when they were growing up.
Unstable marriages affect
children long before the actual divorce. Professor Youngmin Sun of Ohio
State University demonstrated that divorce is a process, not a single event,
when he discovered that even before parents physically split up, children who
live in homes where their parents have given up on the marriage, are more likely
to have lower educational aspirations, feel less ready to face the challenges of
school, they have more behavior problems, and poorer self-concepts. According to
Dr. Sun, these pre-divorce families are less involved in their children’s
education, they express lower expectations for their children’s accomplishments,
are less involved in their child’s school activities, have fewer discussions
about school, and report doing things with their children less often than do
Children of divorced parents
may be less devoted care-givers to their aging parents. There is much
evidence that old resentments do not fade over time. One recent study suggests
that children of divorce may feel less obligated to support their parents in old
age. While much has been written for and about children who desire to reunite
their parents following divorce, most kids eventually realize that they are
helpless to hold their parents’ marriage together. Without healthy role models
for family loyalty, family responsibility, and methods for solving interpersonal
problems, children may feel abandoned and be left with enduring bitterness. Even
when divorce is billed as the end of the marriage, not the end of the
family, the reality is that many children feel that they have been discarded
along with the marriage if deprived of contact with an estranged parent. This
study suggests that later on in life, aging parents who want to re-establish a
relationship with their estranged offspring after many years, should not be
surprised if they are met with anger, a lack of sympathy and resources from
their children. Whether you call it karma or simply human nature, this
phenomenon demonstrates the old adage that “what goes around, comes around”.
Those who think that “a bad
marriage is forever” are urged to consider the work of Professor Linda Waite,
who studied couples who almost got a divorce. In her book, The Case
for Marriage, she reports that bad marriages are not as permanent as we
previously assumed. Over time, she found that 86% of people who considered
themselves to be in bad marriages but who chose to stick it out, reported a turn
around in their marriage over the next five years. In other words, their
decision to honor their vows and hang in with their marriage actually resulted
in a return to former levels of happiness once the option of divorce was
dismissed. In view of this finding or until we develop improved ways to protect
our children, parents should give responsible consideration to their marital
obligations. For those who have already divorced, remember to behave in the best
interest of your children. While certain circumstances, such as abuse and
domestic violence make divorce imperative, we must realize that whimsical
divorces create broken hearts in our children that last a lifetime.
Why do spouses decide to
leave? Unfortunately, many spouses choose to leave
their marriages based upon their own self-centered motives, rather than
considering the vast ramifications which will forevermore affect their children.
Perhaps they do not know that for most children, their parents’ divorce marks
the end of a secure childhood. Researchers have recently reported that 70% of
American divorces occur in low conflict couples. This finding suggests that many
couples aren’t even willing to confront their differences in the effort to
attempt to resolve their conflicts. Rather they are choosing to avoid conflict
and skip ahead to calling it quits. But as parents, aren’t we supposed to teach
our children about conflict resolution? Aren’t we supposed to demonstrate the
fine art of communication and compromise?
©Copyright, 2004, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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