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Children of Divorce: Five Years Later

Children of Divorce: Five Years Later

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 emotional deprivation.

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 properly.

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 adjustment.

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.





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