Two myths about the effect of divorce on children

Some 40 years ago, Mrs. J. Wallerstein asked herself: what can be the effect of divorce on children? She started investigating and she wrote a book on the subject. Over a period of 25 years she studied a group of 131 children and their families going through the divorce process. Through her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, published in 2000, we now know that in fact divorce leaves children to struggle for a life-time with the effects of a decision their parents made.

Ms. Wallerstein is rather outspoken: “If the truth be told, and if we are able to face it, the history of divorce in our society is replete with unwarranted assumptions that adults have made about children simply because such assumptions are congenial to adult needs and wishes. The myths that continue to guide our divorce policies and politics today stem from these direct attitudes.”

Unfortunately it seems that adults have put their own needs and happiness before the happiness of the children justifying this by buying into the myth that children are resilient and that time heals all wounds. Let's look at two myths.

Myth 1: If the parents are happy, the children will be happy to

It will not be the first time that you hear someone marking the remark that if they divorce, they will be happier and therefor the children will become happier as well. A happy mom or dad means happy children.....

Unfortunately, this is just a projection of the parents feelings onto their children. By putting it in an objective way, for not having to feel responsible for causing the children emotional pain. Even if the parents are unhappy in their marriage, this does not automatically mean that the children are quite happy and maybe even do not care if mom and dad do not get along that well.

When confronted with divorce, the childrens live turns upside down. The process of divorce with all the change is already hard for the parents. Try to imagine what it must be like for children not even the age to understand the reasons and the situation. There is a negative effect of divorce on children.

Fact 1: A child's happiness is not dependent on their parent's happiness.

A child's happiness comes from daily routine, having a place called home, two parents, friends to play with, school activities to be involved in and counting this to be constant day in and day out.

Children of divorced parents often are more aggressive toward their parents and teachers. Depression, learning difficulties and problems getting along with their peers are often perceived. The effect of divorce on children is negative. They more likely to be referred for psychological help, become earlier sexually active , are are more likely to produce children out of wedlock and they are three times as likely to divorce themselves or to never marry.

Myth 2: Less conflicts and disagreement, less trauma

True, conflicts and disagreements exacerbate the trauma. The other way around however is not that if parents get along fine, that there is no lasting negative effect of divorce on children. This causes a strong focus on the process rather than on the aftermath of the process.

Fact 2: Divorce cannot be considered an amicable process

With all the best will of the world, and how hard we may try, there will be bad feelings. The mayority of divorces are not unilateral, this means that both parents somehow will feel betrayed and hurt. These feelings will be felt and noticed by the children, even if we think we have concealed them so well.

It is naive to think that as long as the divorce process goes off without a problem, all is fine. There is a negative effect of divorce on children.

Ms. Wallerstein: “the parent's anger at the time of the breakup is not what matters most. Unless there was violence or abuse or high conflict, a child has dim memories of what transpired during this supposedly critical period.”

Research has shown that for the children the most long-term negative effects were caused by the sadness of the family breaking up, the difficulty to express theri anger, not living with two parents under the family roof anymore and the forced visitation. The clear contract with the still intact families of friends and the economic effect are painful too.

It is in the aftermath of divorce that most harm to the children is done. Therefore, focus on what is needed after the process and try to avoid as much emotional harm as possible.

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