The statistics for divorce in the 1990's suggest that nearly sixty percent of marriages end in divorce. Given this startling figure, the presumption can be made that many children will experience some effects caused by the life-changing event called divorce. What is it exactly about divorce that causes negative consequences for these children? In what ways will these children be effected? Will these effects show outwardly? The unsettling fact is: young children of divorced parents face great psychological challenges due to the environmental conditions and changes associated with divorce (Wolchik and Karoly 45). When we pass the year 2000, we will see two groups of working age adults emerging. One group will have received psychological, social, economic, educational and moral benefits and the other group will have been denied them all. The first group will have grown up with both parents present in the house and the second group will have not had both parents present. Parental conflict appears to have a pronounced effect on the coping efforts of children. The intense anxiety and anger between some parents in the early stages of divorce is real. Often times parents allow their children to get in the middle of fierce verbal fighting between them. Berating the other parent in front of the child is another way of placing the child in an unfair position, which in essence is expecting the child to choose between the parents. Any form of parental conflict, no matter to what degree, lends to a difficult adjustment period for children involved. (Jekielek 1-3). The deterioration in parent-child relationships after divorce is another leading cause in psychological problems for children. With a divorce comes a parenting plan of some kind. A child may experience shared custody between both parents or custody by one parent with visitation by the other parent. Variations of these plans can be included or added at different times in the child's life depending on special circumstances. More often than not, the mother is awarded custody of the children. The absence of the father on a full time level is detrimental to the healthy development of the children. In the case that the father is awarded custody of the children, the opposite applies as well. Studies have shown that a decay in custodial parent-child relationships may frequently occur in the first year or two following divorce (Wolchik and Karoly 56-59). Constant confusion and inconsistent parenting are supplying factors to the adaptation of children. Consistency is the key to helping children adapt quickly with as few psychologically traumatic scars as possible. The consistency should be practiced in every aspect of the child's life including: eating and drinking adult foods, potty training, sleeping in their own bed, discipline, "house rules" showing respect towards others, sharing, and routines wake up and bed times, meal times, play times. Because parents may have different ideas of what consistency means and how children should be raised, it is often a difficult task for the parent to help encourage positive and progressive development for the children. The relationship between divorce and a drop in standards of living for female-headed families has been documented in several studies. The connection between divorce and financial difficulties in these households may negatively impact children's adjustment periods. Felner and Terre (1987) conclude, "Economic deprivation accompanying divorce may influence the child's adjustment not only directly, by decreasing the level of material resources available to the child, but also less directly by leading to additional alterations such as [in] mother-child interaction patterns, daily routines, or the quality and/or location of the child's domicile or through contributing to the stress experienced by the custodial parent"
If divorce is so painful, why do some children flourish academically? Why do others carry on as if nothing has happened? "The reactions a child exhibits will depend on the nature of the child (ego strength and capacity to mobilize resources), as well as his or her age and the relationship of the parents and child before, during, and after the divorce. Some of the initial reactions to divorce are similar to the reactions to the death of a loved one." It can be expected that a child going through such a traumatic event as divorce will experience a wide range of emotions: sadness or depression, denial, embarrassment, anger, guilt, concern about being cared for, regression, maturity, and physical symptoms (Diamond 22-28). Listed by age group are some of the more common post-divorce symptoms experienced by children. Preschool children are more likely to blame themselves and to experience nightmares, enuresis, and eating disturbances. Early-school age children have academic problems, withdrawal and depression. Older school age children are more likely to blame one parent for the divorce and feel intense anger at one or both parents. Adolescents experience the most intense anger and also exhibit problems with developmental issues of independence and interpersonal relationships. (Wolchik and Karoly 235-236).
Interview of : Michael, age ten
"My parents aren't actually divorced yet. But they're getting one soon. When I was five, he moved to Boston, and that hurt my feelings because I realized he was really leaving and I wouldn't be able to see him every day. My father drives big machines, and when he lived with us, I used to go to his job every day and watch him working on trucks. I had my own goggles and tools, and we would spend many hours together. I remember when I first heard the bad news that he was moving away, because I almost flipped my lid. My father said he would be divorcingmy Mom but that he wouldn't be divorcing me and we'd still see each other a lot-but not as often. I started crying then and there, and ever since then I've been hoping every single second that he'd move back home and we'd all live together again. I don't cry much anymore because I hold it back, but I feel sad all the same.
I get to visit my father quite often. And Shadow. He's my dog. Whenever I talk with Daddy on the phone I can hear Shadow barking in the background. The hardest thing for me about visiting my father is when I have to leave, and that makes me feel bad-and mad-inside. I still wish I could see him every day like I did when I was little. It's hard to live with just one person, because you don't have enough company, though my Mom has a great baby-sitter and that helps a little. You (Megan) are like my sister, and it's comforting for me to have someone besides Ed around to do stuff with-like takes me for rides on your bike and we play baseball together. We can do a lot more daredevil activities than I could ever do with my Mom.
I hope my Mom never gets remarried because I just wouldn't like anybody else to try and take the place of my Dad. But sometimes when she's dating one man a lot and he's nice to me, I can't help wishing he was my Dad. I told her that if she did ever want a husband, I have a list of choices and it would be nice if she could pick someone who could help me play with my computer. I wouldn't mind if my Dad got remarried because maybe they'd have another kid and to tell you the truth I would really like to have a younger brother. But I wouldn't want my Mom to have a baby because it would live with us and then I'd have to share all my stuff. Still, what I really really want, deep down, is that my Dad doesn't get remarried and my Mom doesn't, either. What I'm just hoping and hoping more than anything is that they'll get back together again"
Diamond, Susan. Helping Children of Divorce.
Furstenberg, Frank F. "Children and family change: Discourse between social scientists and the media."
Jekielek, Susan M. "Parental conflict, marital disruption and children's emotional well-being."
Krementz, Jill. "How It Feels When Parents Divorce."
Wolchik, Sharlene A., and Paul Karoly "Children of Divorce Empirical Perspectives on Adjustment."