Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Do Children Benefit from Divorce?

Divorce leaves scars
The question was asked on a website forum recently, Does Divorce Benefit Children. 
Below is my answer, based on my empirical experience:

No! Children do not benefit from their parents' divorce. In fact they are as damaged as they would be from the sudden, violent death of one of their parents. They learn that life is not to be depended upon for safety, security, or happiness. They learn the cold of trying to fall asleep while crying about the loss of their "safe place" of home where they can be assured of security and encouragement from both parents who can reinforce each other's parenting.

 As a stepfamily minister and family mediator since 1996, and a teacher of court-required classes for divorcing parents of minors, I've seen many, many detrimental effects of divorce on children. I've also heard many, many parents trying to justify their divorces by saying the children will be better off. 

 No, they won't be better off. As Judith Wallerstein points out in her book, What About the Kids?, children whose parents divorce are affected by the divorce the rest of their lives in almost every conceivable context, from their self-esteem and -confidence, to their social interactions, to their own marriages and parenting. By far most of the divorcing parents who come through my classes are children of divorce themselves who are just passing along the epidemic.

 I've watched these scarred children try to fit into stepfamilies in second or third marriages. It is sad to see! They exhibit signs of trauma, insecurity, fear, distrust, anger, acting out, parental isolation, hostility toward the new adults, and most every other trauma-related behavior. Divorce is wrong toward your spouse to whom you've sworn to be true for life; it's abusive to your children who trust you both to care for them unselfishly.

STEPcoach Bob Collins


Anonymous said...

This is a narrow minded response that does consider the entire spectrum of possible senerios that children may find themselves within the context of a married couple. As a PhD and researcher in human development, this response reveals a gross lack of understanding and knowledge about the emperical evidence found on this issue. When children are living in unhappy homes that exhibit anger, fighting, and abuse; they exhibit negative behavioral symptoms. Divorce is not the "cause" of these behaviors and negative outcomes, it is the behaviors of the adults that impose a threat to children. There is evidence that children who have parents divorce in a kind and civil manner can actually have improved outcomes. As unhappy and uncivil home environments are NOT healthy for children. Staying married for the "sake of the children" frequently is just as hurtful to children. Instead of guilting patents, perhaps you should strengthen your coaching skills.

STEPcoach said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for your kind and considered response. However, you are wrong.

I don't know if you are referring to your own Ph.D. and work in human development or if you think I have that designation (which I don't); your statement is unclear. But my research is wholly empirical (based on first hand observation and investigation, rather than second- or third- hand readings, such as a Ph.D. candidate might look up in the college library).

I have spent over 17 years working personally and intensely with broken families and their children, counseling, mentoring, comforting, and discussing their pasts, their hurts, and from where those hurts stem. My article reflects the statements and tears of those hundreds of families. Staying married for the children, sacrificing for the well-being of your children, and working through difficulties rather than giving up and running away are both the honorable and, unfortunately these days, unpopular choices of parents who put their children's needs for a whole, sound family before their own wants for a more exciting relationship.

I am quite sure I know who you are, although you hide your identity behind "Anonymous," and we've hashed this out many times before. You will continue to maintain your preference to disposable, fun relationships at the cost of stability for the children, while I will remain in favor of honoring vows, responsibility, and sacrificial parenting. Peace.

Nishna said...

I know a divorced family that needs Professional Help. They are everything you say, always angry, acting out and hostile towards me (their Stepmom) for 30 years. I guess, without realizing it, I have been their punching bag. Now I need professional help...lol. But, seriously, I come on some of these Stepfamily websites to write my poor pitiful me story as therapy to let go of these feelings of abuse over & over, when all I ever offered was kindness. I am tired of all of them. My husband retires later this year & he needs to go too. He's no help to me crying 1st over his Ex and now over his kids & now grandkids. I need to buy some balloons & write all their names on, & either send them to the sky or POP'em all!!!

STEPcoach said...

I can relate, Nishna! If you haven't felt this way at least once you're not in a normal stepfamily. The big (huge!) difference in stepmoms like you, and those who don't make it to a 30th anniversary is self-sacrificing commitment. Before a soldier receives a medal, she must perform an extraordinary act of dedication and service, she must go "above and beyond" normal expectations to serve someone else. You, dear lady, are a Hero. As any veteran, carry your scars proudly.

Helen said...

I agree, Divorce damages kids, I myself had both parents divorce and alienate me from the other parent. However, I now find myself in a relationship with a guy who has a daughter, and ex who has learning difficulties. Her frustrations manifested in physical attacks on him. That and ending up with a carers complex (he told me his Dr diagnosed this, but nothing was followed up on this at all.) She was volatile and angry and they divorced as a result of a separation. Her mother apparently instigated the divorce. Now his ex is desperatly wanting him back, his daughter is needing her Dad all the time, and sometimes cries on the phone. This is pulling him in all directions. I'm pulled as well. Hurt and angry that such an unhealthy relationship can pull him emotionally. He helps her alot and separate they get on better. I'm torn because I want his daughter to be happy, but I also cannot stomach a reunion just to keep everyone happy and except him and have an unhappy relationship for the sake of the child. Is it right for two people to get back together knowing they or at least one will be very unhappy just to keep the child happy ?

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