The Effects of Divorce


Divorce in our society has become increasingly common. Fifty percent of
all marriages will end in divorce and each year 2 million children are newly
introduced to their parents separation, (Monthly Vital Statistics Report ).
Demographers predict that by the beginning of the next decade the majority of
the youngsters under 18 will spend part of their childhood in single-parent
families, many created by divorce. During this confusing period of turmoil and
high emotional intensity, the child must attempt to understand a complex series
of events, to restructure numerous assumptions and expectations about themselves
and their world. He or she may be uprooted to a new school, city or
neighborhood leaving their familiar social ties behind. They must often assume
new household duties, possibly feel the financial loss and most importantly
receive less support and nurturing from their parents. These are just a few
implications of divorce but demonstrates how it changes the lives of children.
Each child is unique, so the short and long term functioning of the
children after divorce varies widely. Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) observed and
interviewed parents and children three times in five years, and reported an
estimate of one third of the children come out of divorce unharmed. Another one
third function adequately, but experience difficulties, and the remaining one
third have severe upsets in their developmental process. However the authors of
the "Family in Transition", approach this finding with caution because the
conclusions were made without comparing the children of two parent families.
Never the less they do note there are overall trends in the functioning of
children after divorce. The areas most often discussed are intellectual
performance, juvenile delinquency and aggression, social and emotional well-
being and cognition and perception,
(A & J Skolnick p. 349).
Most research shows that boys are more vulnerable than girls to divorce
related stress and recover more slowly. A. and J. Skolnick offer the
possibility that living with the opposite sex is more difficult than with the
same sex and because the custodial parent is often the mother, boys are exposed
to this situation more often. Another perspective is that girls are likely to
be just as troubled by divorce as boys are, but demonstrate their feelings in a
manner that is more appropriate to their sex role, namely by being anxious,
withdrawn or very well behaved, (Kaslow and Schwartz p. 164).
In examining the data on the factor of age influencing a child\'s
adjustment to divorce, it seems that older and younger children at the time of
separation experience different short term effects, but share commonalities in
the long term effects. Preschool children with their egocentric forms of
reasoning, blame themselves for a parent leaving and take it as a personal
rejection. This can be associated with a child\'s disturbed eating, sleeping,
play and toileting, (Wallerstein & Blakeslee). School age children suffer from
loyallty conflicts and fantasize about their parents getting back together.
This is associated with the decline in academic performance or psychosomatic
symptoms. Participating in outside activities help to get away from the
tensions at home, (A & J Skolnick p. 355).
When a marriage breaks down, men and women alike often experience a
diminished capacity to parent. They give less time, provide less discipline and
are less sensitive to their children, since they themselves are caught up in its
aftermath, Wallerstein p.21). According to the Skolnick\'s mothers become more
coercive and fathers become more lax and indulgent. They make less demands for
mature behaviors and communicate less effectively and provide less affection.
As a result children may become less compliant and parent child relationships
can be associated with behavior problems in the children. In a study done by
Judith Wallerstein, she tracked 131 children of divorced parents 10 and 15 years
after the divorce, she found that diminished parenting continued permanently,
disrupting the child-rearing functions of the family. The role of the child
becomes one of warding off the serious depression that threatens the parents and
holding the parent together. Wallerstein calls these children the "overburden
child". They accounted for 15 percent of the children in her study. Many
become angry at being trapped by the parent\'s demands, at being robbed at their
separate identity and denied their childhood. They are saddened, sometimes
beyond repair, at seeing so few of their own needs gratified, (p. 41).
Judith Wallerstein also found that divorce has long lasting
psychological effect on many children, one that in fact, may turn out to be
permanent. Children of divorce have vivid memories about their parens\'
separation. The details are etched permanently in their minds, more than any
other experiences in their lives. She