Adult Children Of Divorce

How do the adult children of divorce cope with their own lives in relationships and marriages? This article gives some ideas about how divorce spreads from one generation to the next. Mrs. Wallerstein has deeply investigated the long term effects of divorce on children during many years. She has followed children during a period of 25 years. She published her findings in 1991.

Further research on adult children of divorce has provided this information:

  • Boys of divorce showed high levels of conduct problems soon after the divorce, and that the parents' remarriage introduced new behavioral and emotional problems for girls.
  • Men from divorced families reported more anxiety and distress in their adult life.
  • Parental divorce is associated with marital disagreements, problems, and divorce in one's own adult marriage.
  • Adult children of divorce are less satisfied in their lives compared to adults from intact and happy families. They are however happier than adults from families that were miserable but stayed together. This confirms that if you and your spouse really can't stand each other, and -staying together for the children- means raising them in a miserable and unhappy home, divorce might be a better idea.
  • when they have emotional or mental health problems, they are just as serious as those shown in adults from miserable but intact families. Thus, there is no way to erase the impact of divorce
  • The younger the adult was when the parents divorced, the greater the distress and unhappiness they showed in their adult life. This may be because the dysfunctional impact of divorce has a longer time to harm the child, or because the child had fewer cognitive resources to handle the impact of the divorce when they were so young.
  • Length of time in a single parent home made little difference, and custodial mother's remarriage made little difference. However, the non-custodial father's remarriage often improved father contact with the children
  • The impact of multiple divorces was worse than the impact of only one divorce.
  • Losing contact with a parent had more negative effects than did maintaining contact, even when the parents continued to argue occasionally.

The following models try to explalin why these findings might be true:

The Socialization Model

Divorce and single parents family life teaches dysfunctional behavior. This leads to longterm problems for adult children of divorce. This idea has received limited support as for instance time spent in a single parent family and remarriage made no difference : absence of models (lacking one parent, children of divorce lack role modeling)

  • inappropriate modeling (seeing a bad marriage doesn't teach you how to have a good one)
  • lower resistance to divorce (divorce is less unthinkable)
  • lower committment to marriage (assume it will fail)

The Economic Deprivation Model

Divorce leads to decrements in financial stability and that leads to longterm problems. Research has shown that children living in their father's custody were financially better off than those living in their mother's custody. This is often because fathers maintain the same or a similar financial picture, while mothers, earning less as women and often neglecting their careers to care for their children make less money. Thus, financial loss, as it relates to family stress, is more likely important than simple decrease in the mother's monthly income.

  • Adult children of divorce tend to marry at an earlier age (leading to less mature and stable relationships)
  • lower education and SES (meaning other issues associated with low SES come into play and interfere with job
  • opportunities, housing quality, and neighborhood/community support)

The Family Stress Model

Divorce distresses children, and that leads to longterm problems. As children of divorced families and intact and unhappy families showed similar levels of dysfunction, and multiple divorces was seen with more distress. Two additional considerations in explaining this idea:

  • Inadequate social control (poor parenting after the divorce is the main vehicle for the negative effect of divorce on child)
  • Genetics/dysfunctional family processes (divorce is not what's passed on. Rather personality characteristics, such as irritability, impulsivity, poor coping with stress…. )
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