Children of Divorce: Five Years Later
Children of Divorce: Five Years
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
What effect does divorce have on children? Does it harm
them or does it benefit them by freeing them from a conflict-ridden family?
The answer, of course, is that it depends.
In their recent book, Surviving the Breakup: How Children
and Parents Cope with Divorce (Basic Books, 1980), Judith Wallerstein and Joan
Berlin Kelly report the results of their five year study of 131 children from
58 divorcing families. They found that divorce appears to be more beneficial
for parents than children.
Five years after their divorce, 57% of the women and 50%
of the men in this study were in good psychological health. Only 20% of them
regretted the divorce or thought it had been ill advised.
By contrast, only 34% of the children were psychologically
healthy five years later. 29% were having some emotional problems, while 37%
were having serious emotional problems, primarily depression. 50% still thought
their parents' divorce had been a mistake.
Of the children who were having serious problems, 17% felt
rejected by their mothers and 39% felt rejected by their fathers. Their depression
was manifested in a variety of ways: intense and chronic unhappiness, delinquency,
poor learning, sexual promiscuity, anger, apathy, restlessness or a sense of
What is significant about this research is that it clearly
shows that children can be negatively affected by divorce five years after it
occurs. Divorce can hurt children. It doesn't have to, but it will if not handled
In their book, Wallerstein and Kelly outline several conditions
which, if present, will better insure that children will not be damaged by divorce.
My plea to divorced parents, or those about to divorce, is to become aware of
these conditions and to include them, whenever possible, in your own divorce
Continued loving relationship with both parents. Because
they have stopped loving each other does not mean that parents have to stop
loving their children. Children of divorce need to be reassured their parents
will continue to support and care for them.
It is especially important that the non-custodial parent
- usually the father - continue to be involved with the children on a regular,
frequent basis. He plays an important role in the development of self-esteem
in his children, and his absence or lack of involvement will bother them. It
is more difficult for children to learn to like themselves if they feel their
father doesn't care for them.
Because of the importance of father's involvement with children
of divorce, Wallerstein and Kelly argue that their research shows joint custody
to be more beneficial for children than sole custody.
Absence of conflict and anger between the parents. Children
will be negatively affected by a divorce if it does not solve or reduce the
problems between their parents, or escalates the parents hurt and anger. Parents
who continue to battle each other after the divorce will inflict emotional damage
on their offspring, especially if they use them as weapons or allies.
Absence of severe economic stress and worries. Divorce is
financially and emotionally stressful for all family members. Mothers' incomes
usually drop after a divorce, while fathers are often burdened by the support
of two households. If the economic stress in a divorce is severe, it will add
to the already heavy emotional burden of the children.
Good psychological stability of both parents. Whether married
or divorced, emotionally disturbed parents tend to produce emotionally disturbed
children. Parents in a divorce are subject to severe stress which usually but
temporarily diminishes their parenting skills. If they can eventually recover
those skills - and most do their children will have a better chance of adjusting
satisfactorily to the divorce.
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.