Family LIfe

Culture of Divorce: How Our Moral Values Affect Our Children
by Brian Orchard,

Over the past hundred years or so, there have been changes in moral values that influence marriage, personal development and family relationships. But it may surprise you to know that the harmful effects of divorce on children were documented almost 400 years before Christ.

If divorce is so prevalent, so acceptable a thread in the social fabric of Western culture, have we perhaps missed some rather significant developments paralleling its increase? The definition of the word "divorce" means the dissolution or ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse.

In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (2000), Judith Wallerstein, senior lecturer emerita at the University of Berkeley's School of Social Welfare, asks, "What about the children? In our rush to improve the lives of adults, we assumed that their lives would improve as well. We made radical changes in the family without realizing how it would change the experience of growing up."

Over the last 40 years an increased acceptance of divorce has produced profound changes in our attitudes about marriage and family. The roles of men and women not only changed with industrialization and urbanization in the 20th century, but also during World War II when women entered the workplace. The birth control pill gave women control over fertility; and wages earned brought greater decision-making ability in family relationships. These societal changes brought freedoms that previous generations did not have.

During the 1970s, the divorce rate doubled as young folks' attitudes on fidelity, chastity and commitment became very different from those of their parents. The change created less of an incentive to work out marital difficulties.

Wallerstein's landmark 25-year study has deeply convinced her of the long-term effects of divorce on children: "Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different. Adulthood-with the decision to marry or not and have children or not-is different. Whether the final outcome is good or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual's life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience."

The harmful effects of divorce on children were documented in the Bible almost 400 years before Christ. There, we are told that God hates divorce. (Malachi 2:16.) Marriage is a covenant. It is not independent agreement: "Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant" (verse 14) This passage notes that the wife is not an inferior but is a companion in whom the husband should take delight. Marriage also assumes a sexual union, and this union is much more than just a physical experience; it is the union of mind and spirit.

This relationship between husband and wife is essential to a healthy family relationship. "A central finding to my research," says Wallerstein, "is that children identify not only with their mother and father as separate individuals but with the relationship between them. They carry the template of this relationship into adulthood and use it to seek the image of their new family."

Except in the case of premature death, marriage embarked upon in youth is intended to remain into old age. The marriage-covenant relationship is intended to produce children and to provide them with the physical-mental nurturing young, developing minds require.

This is precisely the basis of the injunction recorded by the prophet Malachi against ancient Israel. They were destroying the security of future generations by dismantling the marriage relationship-and so are we. Divorce weakens a basic building block of society. Children of divorce are affected to greater or lesser degrees. They carry the impact on into adulthood and in turn affect the next generation.

Wallerstein notes, "It's clear that we've created a new kind of society never before seen in human culture. Silently and unconsciously, we have created a culture of divorce."

Perhaps it's not too late for us to rethink divorce and society's moral values and how our family relationships affect our culture and the generations to come.

About the Author:
Brian Orchard is a pastor with 34 years of family counseling experience. He is a father and grandfather and has worked with youth programs in the U.S., Australia and the Philippines. You can read more articles on family and relationships at

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