Divorce Across the Lifespan

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Divorce Across the Lifespan

Final Paper
Elizabeth Seckler
for
Laurie Bulock
FST 602 (Human Development Across the Lifespan)
MAFS-J003
October 27, 2011

“I do”. Two small words with such a big meaning. Although fewer individuals are marrying today, nearly 90% of Americans will eventually “tie the knot” (Goldstein and Kenney, as cited by Cherlin, 2011, pg. 300). However, the meaning of marriage is appearing to lose its effect on individuals, as divorce has become epidemic in the United States (Hoelter, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 459). Since 1960, the divorce rate has varied through the years, increasing considerably from 1960 to 1980, then gradually declining from the early 1980s to 2005, but recently increasing from 2005 to 2007 (Popenoe, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 459). Divorce is a major disruption in the family life-cycling process, adding complexity to whatever developmental tasks the family member is experiencing in its present phase (Peck and Manocherian, 1988, pg. 335). The negative impact of divorce is so strong that children of divorced parents struggle as adults to create a positive, healthy family environment for their own children. All too often, adults who experienced divorce as children prove less capable of breaking the cycle and instead pass on a legacy of tragedy to their children and their children’s children (Fagan and Rector, 2000, pg.17). Therefore, divorce does not just impact the individual at the time of the dissolution. Instead, divorce negatively impacts an individual in every stage of life. Infancy

Of the stages of development across the lifespan, it may appear that infants are the least affected by divorce. However, while babies may not understand anything about separation or divorce, they do notice changes in their parents’ response to them, which impacts future development. According to psychoanalytic theorist, Erik Erikson, who developed eight stages of human development, the first psychosocial stage experienced in the first year of life is called trust vs. mistrust. Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a good and pleasant place to live (Santrock, 2011, pg. 23). Therefore, the foundation of all human interactions is trust. The degree to which trust is present will determine the nature and depth, as well as the length of relationships. If children develop basic trust, they progress through the rest of the developmental stages in a healthy way. However, if mistrust is the primary concept developed in infancy (as in a situation of divorce), the subsequent developmental stages are damaged (Rhodes, 2000, pg. 9). Still, Erikson’s trust vs. mistrust is not resolved once and for all in the first year of life. Children who leave infancy with a sense of trust can still have their sense of mistrust activated at a later stage if their parents are separated or divorced under conflicting circumstances (Santrock, 20011, pg. 187). Additionally, babies experience the distress of the parents and become aware of the changes, and comings and goings of both parents and other caretakers as they form emotional ties. The combination of distressed and/or unavailable parents can create demanding or withdrawn children. As children approach the age of two, their striving toward independence is closely tied to feeling secure; with the loss of a parent, this security is threatened (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 347). Early Childhood

Parents who are struggling with their own sense of failure, anger, guilt, and loss have difficulty providing a stabilizing, consistent environment for their children. This is especially hard for preschoolers who are developmentally starting to move away from home and toward peers and school. They have the beginnings of a sense of morality, combined with difficulty in distinguishing between their thoughts and reality, and thus are especially vulnerable to guilt and confusion (Peck &...
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