Over the course of a century society has been transformed – moral values have changed, family relationships have been forever altered, and the traditional roles of family members are no longer cut and dry. These changes have, in no small part, been driven by divorce rates that have risen from 3% in the 1800s, to 7% in the 1960s, and on a rapid trajectory onwards to 48% in the modern day.
There is often talk about many of today’s social problems beginning with broken families (such as crime, poverty and unemployment), which start with emotional and behavioral issues in children of divorce. Yet despite this, the impact of divorce on children has long since been recognized and documented – with records dating back to 400B.C. In the bible (Malachi 2:16 – verse 14) we are told not only of God’s dislike for divorce, but also of a wife who is not inferior, but a companion to discover delight in.
“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)
As societal changes continue, and people move away from religion, what can be done to stem the impact of familial break-ups?
The 1970’s and One Groundbreaking Twenty-Five Year Study
The 1970s marked a doubling in the U.S. divorce rate – a change often blamed on the shift in younger couples’ attitudes to fidelity, chastity and commitment, as compared to the belief systems of their parents. Whatever the underlying causes, it quickly became clear that the up and coming generations were less inclined to work through marital difficulties. One study, by Judith Wallerstein, Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of Berkeley
did much to help us understand the harm that this rise equated to.
“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.”
– Judith Wallerstein, Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of Berkeley
Wallerstein’s study stretched over the course of two and a half decades, documenting the long-term impact of divorce. Summarizing her findings, Wallerstein found divorce to be truly life-changing – transforming childhood, adolescence and adulthood (it is well-known that children of divorced parents are more likely to become “teen parents,” produce out-of-wedlock babies, less likely to marry and more likely to divorce if they do marry.)
The evidence was and still is overwhelming – divorce is harmful to children not just in younger years, but for a lifetime. The question is what lies behind modern-day divorce rates, and moreover, how can loving, responsible parents prime their children for the impending split of the home?
Common Reasons for Divorce
According to official statistics, the seven most common reasons lying behind divorce are:
– Arguing too much 56%
– Infidelity 55%
– Married too young 46%
– Unrealistic expectations 45%
– Lack of equality in the relationship 44%
– Lack of preparation for marriage 41%
– Abuse 25%
Divorce Rates in the U.S.
Each and every year more than 1 million American children are faced with the prospect of the breakup of a marriage.
The well-worn statistic about divorce rates in the U.S. is that only 50% of marriages survive (this stat is taken from a study between 2006 and 2010, with the chance of the average marriage making it to 20 years being 52%).
Yet all may not be quite as it seems. Recent research has uncovered two interesting patterns – first – that divorce rates are at their lowest point in nearly 40 years, and second, that while marriage (often derided as being an outdated societal construct) is on the rise.
5 Ways Divorce Affects Your Children
the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body.
This simple definition does little to truly shine a light of what divorce truly means (and moreover, what it genuinely represents for the children of divorcing parents.
The impact is far and wide ranging, and while the exact way in which a child is affected depends on many factors (such as the reason behind the divorce, the income level of each parent and whether the divorce is amicable) there are five core issues that are a common thread…
1. Children blame themselves for the divorce
Whether aged five or fifteen, the reasons behind divorce are oftentimes too complex to be fully grasped by children – which is compounded be there usually being more than a single reason leading to the divorce courts. While many parents attempt to shield their offspring from the realities of the relationship, in turn this often does more harm than good, as children take the lack of a reason to mean that they must somehow be to blame.
2. Children feel pressured to choose a side
Divorce is a painful, tense and incredibly stressful time for all involved. From outright manipulation of children in the midst of a custody battle, to simply overhearing conversations that they shouldn’t, children often feel as though they should explicitly declare who’s side they stand on.
3. Children feel angry and resentful toward the initiating parent
Anger is a normal emotion to experience as the child of divorce, but when left unchecked, this anger can be unfairly directed toward the parent who finally called time on the relationship.
4. Children feel instability in their living situation
Unless both parents are higher than average earners, divorce often brings about the need to move home, as a sole income is no longer enough to sustain the family home. Moving, in itself, can destabilize a child’s life even when their parents aren’t divorcing – add to this the prospect of uncertain custody, and it’s unsurprising that children feel the future is anything but certain.
5. Children have ongoing low self-esteem
Study after study has found that divorce results in children who have lower self-esteem, unhealthy mechanisms for defense, feelings of insecurity, low confidence and cautious traits. Going some way to explaining this, it is thought that children associate their self-image with family relations, and where the family unit is compromised, so too is their self-worth.
What you can do to help a child understand divorce
According to child psychologists, there are four core (and critical) steps that must be taken to minimize the impact of divorce on children…
– Keep visible conflict, tense discussions, and legal talk away from them
– Minimize the disruptions to their daily routine
– Confine negativity and blame to private therapy sessions or conversations with friends outside the home and away from the children
– Keep each parent involved in the children’s lives
While these steps are important, minimizing the detrimental impact of divorce is entirely different to helping children understand the reasoning behind the break-up. The process of which begins with breaking the news in a well-thought out manner – valuing honesty and transparency, over attempting to protect their feelings. This talk must be tailored to the child’s age, maturity and temperament – and should stress that it is absolutely nothing to do with the child (regardless of age – even older teenagers – this needs to be repeatedly driven home).
Parents should also welcome questions, and provide answers that are as truthful as possible. This open and honest form of communication should be maintained throughout the divorce proceedings – removing any guesswork on the child’s behalf.
Divorce has, and continues, to be in flux. Yet while some statistics are a matter of debate, children have and will always be impacted detrimentally by divorce. While there is no sure-fire strategy for eradicating any impact on their lives, parents can and should take steps to minimize the upheaval of divorce on their children – all of which demands carefully laid out plans and total honesty.