Is Divorce Bad for Children?

 

In 1999, my children’s world crumbled. After 11 years of marriage, my husband and I divorced. The security my children had always known disappeared—their childhood marred, and their teenaged years scarred with wounds that reopen at every holiday, every sports banquet, every graduation.

The guilt is a burden I have lived with for years. I’m reminded of it every day as I look into my children’s eyes and see a hardness and pain that I never had as a child. I lived carefree in the comfort of my parents’ love. This is a gift I never gave my children. Instead, I showered them with the curses of a divorced life, the mixed loyalties of remarriage, and the travails of a blended family that never really blends.

So when I opened the pages of Scientific American and read an article titled, “Is Divorce Bad for Children?—The breakup may be painful, but most kids adjust well over time,” I couldn’t help but instinctively grasp for relief from my guilt—guilt that is particularly poignant for a conservative who knows full well that one of the great plagues on our nation is the decline of the family.

From the Scientific American:

Parents who split have reasons for hope. Researchers have found that only a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or, later, as adults. In this column, we discuss these findings as well as factors that may protect children from the potentially harmful effects of divorce.

Divorce affects most children in the short run, but research suggests that kids recover rapidly after the initial blow. In a 2002 study psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington of the University of Virginia and her then graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore found that many children experience short-term negative effects from divorce, especially anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief. These reactions typically diminish or disappear by the end of the second year. Only a minority of kids suffer longer.

Most children of divorce also do well in the longer term. In a quantitative review of the literature in 2001, sociologist Paul R. Amato, then at Pennsylvania State University, examined the possible effects on children several years after a divorce. The studies compared children of married parents with those who experienced divorce at different ages. The investigators followed these kids into later childhood, adolescence or the teenage years, assessing their academic achievement, emotional and behavior problems, delinquency, self-concept and social relationships. On average, the studies found only very small differences on all these measures between children of divorced parents and those from intact families, suggesting that the vast majority of children endure divorce well.

I have to admit that after reading the article, I didn’t feel any hope. That’s because I didn’t believe it. No matter what Scientific American says, I knew that divorce is bad for children. I knew it because I’ve seen it, I’ve lived it. 

I was never one who could deny the anxiety and heartache that plagued my children as I pulled up to their father’s house or met him at the local McDonald’s for the transfer of the children as if we were trading goods at the market. I remember too well phone calls in the middle of the night from my daughter telling me her stomach ached and she wanted to come home but that she didn’t want to hurt daddy’s feelings. Or when I’d hear her whispering on the phone in her bedroom at my house talking to her dad so I wouldn’t hear (even though I didn’t mind).

I remember my son’s anger, the shaking of his normally gentle voice, when I told him I was getting remarried. Or the tears in his eyes when after one of his soccer games, he told me he wanted to go get pizza with his dad and not me but that he didn’t want to upset me. I can still feel the coldness of my daughter when she said she didn’t care anymore who came to her musicals— she was tired of worrying about whether her dad and I might end up sitting too close to each other. At that moment, I longed for the tears I once hated to return to my daughter’s cheeks and wash away the bitter cold.

I could go on and on: the anger, the outbursts, the fear, the once generous love a child has for his parents that has turned inward to protect and guard itself like a wounded animal. These are the realities of divorce that articles like the one in Scientific American fail to consider. 

To say there’s hope because of a few statistics is meaningless. To say kids get over it is shallow at best. Yes, they learn to cope, they grow up, they have good times in the midst of the bad, but they’re scarred, and they’ve been scarred by those who were supposed to protect them. How sadly ironic that the mother (or the father) who protects her children from so many dangers—be careful climbing that tree, don’t swim too far beyond the waves, watch out for cars when you’re riding your bike, be careful, be safe!—how ironic that she has inflicted more pain on her children than any childhood tumble ever could.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just too Irish and prone to guilt anyway. Maybe the article is right. Maybe kids don’t suffer so much. But I just don’t see it because I know the truth, at least in my own life.

Divorce is bad for children. It’s a pain that never ends. It can’t be fixed. Like death, it can’t be undone. It can only be forgiven. The denial mentality of superficial studies will not lift my spirits or give me hope; it will not heal my children’s wounds; it will not fix what is forever broken. That power belongs to Grace alone.

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 133 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Tomorrow, or should I say Monday next?   The Triduum will occupy me for a while…(I’ve bookmarked it, Mollie.)

    DocJay, I’m not ready to fold yet; they’ll have to pry my Rosary… (you know the rest.) [Jn. 16:33]

    • #121
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DocJay

    Sweetie, I expect every decent SoCon to fight for the hearts and minds locall long after this loses in the courts. More importantly, you may save a soul along the way. Even one who still disagrees about gay marriage with you may still see what pure love looks like through someone touched by Christ. I just know where this fight ends. The pseudo progressive who recently joined represents the vast majority of our youths views, fiscally conservative or Keynsian moron.

    • #122
  3. Profile Photo Member
    @

    No worries, Doc, I’m in…

    • #123
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Gloria Hurd,

    I give you the benefit of the doubt that all you want is for Denise to have peace. You are trying to share some tough love. It is coming off bad because it sounds like you are setting yourself above her. We all struggle with things in our pasts so are you sharing from experience of how you overcame a similar difficulty or are you sharing ideals that should be followed? Do you not also have regrets? If so, how have you dealt with them.

    Gloria Hurd: Joan of Ark La Tex:   

    I’m a stranger who asked questions with a sting.  (It was low using her children, but that’s where she lives.  They’re her heart.)  It sounded to me like she’s been replaying the same lousy movie for a decade and a half.  I wondered if it just might be possible that anger vented at some cranky broad  she’ll never have to deal with might open a different way for her to get at it, to heal.  She doesn’t need me to coddle her.  A new timeline of peace and reconciliation for her and her children would be worth some thinking me_inelegant.  

    • #124
  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DocJay

    Gloria, my mom still worries and cries about the effects of it all when I was a kid. She’s in the process of slowly dying and can’t let go of life’s circumstances 36 years ago. Some people relive the past to a fault. It’s neither good nor bad but simply who they are. It’s impossible to truly walk in another’s shoes and see what they saw. Denise is a passionate woman Gloria and you are more a creature of logic than the average female. You are correct that her world will improve when the regrets are processed better but the fact that she aired them here is actually a type of therapy and the support she got is one step toward healing rather than a reinforcement of a pity party. I told my story to say how love and faith healed me fairly well over time. Love and faith shall heal her fairly well too. Time wounds all heels as grandpa would say.

    • #125
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @katievs
    Patrick in Albuquerque

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: katievs, you must read it. Same for you Patrick in Albuquerque.

    Yikes, today’s to do list! · 12 hours ago

    My computer died this morning.  It MIGHT have something to do with the fact that I spilled half a cup of coffee on my keyboard.  Then the internet went down.  Then, there was the Seder Meal to prepare and celebrate.  I’m using my husband’s computer now before Good Friday descends, inducing me me to put away all electronic things for a while.  But I will get to it soon.  I promise.

    • #126
  7. Profile Photo Moderator
    @AmySchley
    katievs

    Patrick in Albuquerque

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: katievs, you must read it. Same for you Patrick in Albuquerque.

    Yikes, today’s to do list! · 12 hours ago

    My computer died this morning.  It MIGHT have something to do with the fact that I spilled half a cup of coffee on my keyboard.  Then the internet went down.  Then, there was the Seder Meal to prepare and celebrate.  I’m using my husband’s computer now before Good Friday descends, inducing me me to put away all electronic things for a while.  But I will get to it soon.  I promise. · 0 minutes ago

    Seder?  Is Mr. Katie Jewish? Or is this some Catholic ritual I’ve never heard of?

    • #127
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @katievs
    Amy Schley

    katievs

    Patrick in Albuquerque

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: katievs, you must read it. Same for you Patrick in Albuquerque.

    Yikes, today’s to do list! · 12 hours ago

    My computer died this morning.  It MIGHT have something to do with the fact that I spilled half a cup of coffee on my keyboard.  Then the internet went down.  Then, there was the Seder Meal to prepare and celebrate.  I’m using my husband’s computer now before Good Friday descends, inducing me me to put away all electronic things for a while.  But I will get to it soon.  I promise. · 0 minutes ago

    Seder?  Is Mr. Katie Jewish? Or is this some Catholic ritual I’ve never heard of? · 0 minutes ago

    Lots of Christians, us among them, do an adapted version of the Jewish Seder ceremony on Holy Thursday.  I love the rehearsal of the story of the Passover, and all the symbols that foretell the Mass.  It’s a great way to enter into the Triduum.

    • #128
  9. Profile Photo Member
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    katie, Amy, and anyone else interested — may I strongly recommend the book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist? Here’s an outline of the book, and here’s a website for it. 

    • #129
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @GloriaHurd
    10 Cents: How have I dealt?  Not always very well.DocJay:  I agree with every single word.  Thank you.

    Denise McA:  God gave me a job to do that I didn’t deserve: to care for my mother through her final, extended illness.  God gave me the Grace each day to do it well.  Bless Jesus, we don’t have to earn Grace.  The hospice nurse asked if I understood what had happened as Mother settled into a coma.  I said, yes, sharing her last 20 minutes of lucidity on earth was God’s gift to me.  Mother’s final words were: Gloria, God asked me to tell you how much He loves you.  I said, God loves you, too, Mother.  She said, yes, that was the surprise.  In the year since, in moments when I  continue to define myself with words you are familiar with: unworthy and undeserving, the Holy Spirit immediately interrupts with:  God loves you.  A woman thanked me for helping Mother to die.  I knew that I had not spent one ounce of energy on her dying, but for her joy of living.  We can do that, too, can’t we, you and I?  

    • #130
  11. Profile Photo Thatcher
    @Instugator
    katievs

    Lots of Christians, us among them, do an adapted version of the Jewish Seder ceremony on Holy Thursday.  I love the rehearsal of the story of the Passover, and all the symbols that foretell the Mass.  It’s a great way to enter into the Triduum. · March 29, 2013 at 4:18am

    We had one too, it was awesome.

    • #131
  12. Profile Photo Inactive
    @RedFeline

    Thanks for this piece, Mollie! It makes modern thinking so much clearer and easier to understand. I agree with you that everyone ought to read it, so I am giving the link again:

    http://www.humanumreview.com/articles/view/mechanism-public-reason-and-the-anthropology-of-orientation

    • #132
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.