Children Of Divorce Essay, Research Paper
CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
Divorce. This word has no shock value when mentioned in society today. In fact, it has become a common and acceptable outcome of couples who have found themselves in an unfulfilling marriage. Many hard and challenging decisions need to be faced when ending a marriage, but when children are involved the stakes are even higher. The divorce itself will affect kids, but how the situation is handled during and after the break up may determine the degree of emotional suffering of the children who have to endure this life-altering experience.
Divorce is a relatively new social situation. Traditionally, divorce was considered a social taboo, and if someone desired a divorce they had to prove to the court that the marriage contained either physical or emotional abuse, adultery, or abandonment (Furstenberg and Cherlin 97). In the 1960 s public opinion began to favor more relaxed divorce laws (American style 2), and in 1969 California became the first state to pass a no-fault divorce law. (Furstenberg and Cherlin 98). Between 1960 and 1980 the divorce rate grew almost 250 percent (Galston). I feel this may have been caused by a combination of the lenient divorce laws, more women being able to support themselves by entering the workforce, and the slow change of the public divorce opinion.
How much has society s attitude changed? Well, in 1962 a group of women were asked if married couples with children should stay together even if they didn t get along and half said they should. The views altered when the same groups of women were asked the same question in 1985. Less than one in five of the women felt that couples should remain together for the sake of the children (Furstenberg and Cherlin 1).
Because of the rise in divorce, more kids are growing up in a two-parent home. Every year more than a million youth become a product of divorce (Zinsmeister 1). If a child was born between 1970 and 1986, approximately 44 percent of them will have lived in a home with only one parent by the age of sixteen. The estimate could reach as high as 60 percent for children born in the 1990 s (Furstenberg and Cherlin). Society realizes that divorce has a lasting impact on children, but nobody really knows what to do about this widespread problem (Furstenberg and Cherlin 2).
There seems to be many disputes over the extent of psychological and behavioral problems that children of divorce face, which I will discuss later on, but the economic consequences are more easily measured. Early on, women s contributions to the family were mainly domestic, while the men provided the financial needs. Today more wives may be working, but in most cases their earnings are quite a bit less than their husbands (Furstenberg and Cherlin 46). When families with children dissolve, the custodial parent is most often the mother. These single-parent families face a dramatic drop in income within the early years of the divorce. Even with child support most single-parent households that are headed by the mother are considered low income and live near or below the poverty line (Kitson and Holmes 195).
Divorce couples must also face changes in credit. The individual in the relationship who was not the primary breadwinner found it difficult to establish credit in his or her own name. Of those individuals who had credit, most experienced lowered credit limits, cancellations of credit, and increased pressure from companies to pay off the outstanding debts (Kitson and Holmes 203).
The negative monetary effects are the greatest during the first year after divorce, but for many women it can take years to recover. Although in most cases the custodial parent receives child support, the amount paid is much less than the costs that it takes to raise a child (Wallerstein et al.163). For kids of divorce, adapting to a life of low income has a great impact on their lives. In most cases the parent is busy trying to make ends meet by taking on more hours, holding a second job, or attending night school. Thus, the parent becomes less available to the child physically and emotionally because the parent is away from the home most of the day. When the parent is home, he/she has little time and energy left to give the adequate attention to the child. For the child, less income also means a loss in the opportunity to participate in activities like lessons, sports, summer camps, movies, and other special interests (Wallerstein et al.164).
Divorce changes the live of children in other areas too. The first two years after separation is considered the crisis period (Furstenberg and Cherlin 65). Young children show signs of being more dependent, demanding, repetitive, and less imaginative (Zinsmeister). However, boys and girls seem to be affected differently. Boys tend to act out earlier in response to the divorce. They can become disruptive, aggressive, and show antisocial behavior. Because mothers are traditionally the sole custodial parent, many researchers feel that this behavior may be a result of boys being raised by the parent of the opposite sex. In recent years it has become more common for fathers to be the custodial parent, but as a whole this arrangement is still a rare occurrence. Without a broad group to study, it is difficult to make any concrete conclusions to the effects of same-sex parenting (Furstenberg and Cherlin 66-7).
Sole custody parenting is not the only option for post-divorce child rearing. Shared parenting is becoming a increasingly popular choice in child custody, which today consists of more than 20 percent of living arrangements after divorce. The following chart shows the percentage of child custody arrangements in 1997. (Growth).
Divorced Families, 1997
Data sources: U.S. Census Current Population Survey.
National Center for Health Statistics.
There are a few reasons why this trend is growing. First, men are no longer content with just being an occasional visitor in their children s lives. Fathers want, and should have, a more primary role in raising their kids. Second, the number of mothers who have to work full time is growing. In other cases it has become a fair ruling for a judge to make in a custody battle between two perfectly competent parents.
The sharing of child raising between parents is called joint custody. There are two types of joint custody, joint legal custody and joint physical custody. In a joint legal custody arrangement the children have one primary residence, but the major responsibilities of the kid s care like school, health care, and religion are a shared decision between the parents. Joint physical custody has the same criteria, except the children have two primary residences. The children split their time among the mother and father s homes. This arrangement can take on different forms, from staying at one parent s home during the summer and the other parent s home during the school year, to changing homes every other day.
There are many advantages to joint custody. It gives children the opportunity to build a good relationship with both parents, and if the joint custody agreement was voluntary, the parents generally get along. This decreases the chance that one parent will badmouth the other in front of the kids. Another positive effect of joint custody is that when time is shared on a more equal level between the parents. This means that one parent won t become labeled the fun one while the other becomes the disciplinarian. You see, quite often in sole custody agreement the parent who sees the kids every other weekend buys them gifts, takes them on special outings, and rarely enforces rules to make up for lost time. Thus, leaving the children feeling that the custodial parent is mean because they are the ones who set rules, and discipline (Zinner).
Yet as the saying goes, nothing s perfect, and this includes joint custody. Children of joint custody do not have any consistency in their lives. They are bounced between two households and have two of everything: two bedrooms, wardrobes, toys, and other possessions. Joint custody can also make it more difficult for children to stay focused in school if they are shuttled between two homes during the school year. This also makes it harder for parents to keep track of homework assignments (Zinner). In the end, parents must weigh the pros and con s of joint custody, and realize that they must communicate and cooperate for this type of arrangement to truly work (Furstenberg and Cherlin 113).
Another situation that children of divorce can face is the remarriage of a family and the formation of a stepfamily. In the early years of the divorce boom it was assumed that children would be better off when parents remarried and a family was formed. But a stepfamily cannot pick up where the old, two-biological family left off. There are no set guidelines that determine how a stepfamily is supposed to function, most stepparents and stepchildren are unsure about their new roles, boundaries, and responsibilities
(Furstenberg and Cherlin 77-8).
When trying to figure out how a stepfamily should adjust and function, some people are unsure of who gets counted as members of the stepfamily. Is it just the members living the household? What about the children who visit and see the stepparent only on occasion? All individuals within a stepfamily have different views on the topic of family. When asked the question, who is in your family? , Some may only list blood relatives, while others will include the members of the stepfamily along with the biological members. The varied answers to this question seem to result from whether or not stepfamilies function well enough to feel like families (Furstenberg and Cherlin 78-9).
The functioning of a stepfamily has a lot to do with the relationships within this complex situation; stepparent relationships can be complicated. Quite often stepparents and stepchildren become a type of in-laws , brought together only by the circumstance of marriage. Unlike blood relatives, stepfamilies experience less of the loving rewards that usually accompany being a part of a family and view their relationships as more problematic (Furstenburg and Cherlin 82-3).
It is uncertain if children of divorce are better off if their parents stay single after they divorce, or if they remarry. In remarriage, lives can be improved financially as a second income is brought into the household. This can bring back the standard of that to children were accustomed to before their parent s divorce. Also when a parent remarries, there is another adult around to help out with the responsibilities that go along with running a home. This allows biological parent to have more time to be available to the children. These reasons would have one think that the children would be better off when parents remarry.
In contrast, remarriage can also have negative effects for children. After the initial divorce, kids must re-adjust to a new way of life, and once a parent enters a new marriage the family routines are upset once again. New adjustments must be made, which is made even more complicated by the fact that the family member are not sure of what their roles are and what is to be expected of them. Also, children may feel some jealousy when they have to share their parent s affection with someone new. This may make the children view the stepparent as competition. Another problem that can surface in the event of remarriage is the reaction of the non-custodial parent. The other parent can sometimes feel replaced and resent the idea of another parental figure in their children s lives.
Thus, possibly establishing hostilities that are witnessed by the children (Furstenberg and Cherlin 88).
So, are children better off in a single-parent home, or in stepfamilies? According to the Child Health Supplement to the National Health Interview Survey, the problems of children in stepfamilies, and children from single-parent homes were not much different. However, neither were doing as good as the children living on a home with both biological parents (Furstenberg and Cherlin 89).
Of course, every stepfamily situation is different. Many stepparents and stepchildren can develop a satisfying relationship with minor conflicts. A couple determining factors that can affect the outcome of a stepfamily include the age of the children at the time of remarriage, and the ability of all the adults involved to handle difficult situations.
No matter what the end result of the divorce arrangement is, single-parent home, joint custody, or remarriage into a stepfamily, most people will agree that the children will suffer with emotions such as anger, sadness, and confusion when their parents split. Still, short-term reactions to divorce vary among children; including those children that come from the same family. Part of this variation has to do with each child s individual temperament and their ability to cope with stressful situations (Furstenberg and Cherlin 67).
Unfortunately, many kids lack the emotional skills that are needed to adjust. One research showed that when measuring mental health, children of divorced parents had more issues with withdrawal, dependency, inattention, and unhappiness, plus less work effort , than the kids who came from intact families (Zinsmeister).
According to the National Survey of Children, 30 percent of the kids who experienced divorce by the age of eight had been to some sort of therapy by the time they were teenagers. Sometime these psychological problems run deeper. A large number of the adolescents in mental hospitals have gone through divorce, in fact, more than 80 percent of patients have at some point in their lives. (Zinsmeister). Of course one would have to believe that a lot more has gone on in these kids lives than just divorce to drive them to such serious treatments.
As the children grow, or if they were already an adolescent at the time, the divorce can impact numerous areas in their individual life attitudes. Divorce can affect children s attitudes on pre-marital sex, cohabitation, marriage and divorce (Axinn and Thorton).
Children of divorce often experience new adult relationships that their parents enter into. They witness the parent involved in sexual relations and live-in relationships with new partners. This can cause the child to have positive attitudes and acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation. Once children are exposed to divorce, many of them end up viewing marriage with a negative attitude. They seriously expect that their own marriages may end in divorce. This is understandable because after living through divorce, most children grow up to have a more tolerant attitude towards it (Axinn and Thorton).
Other circumstances that are a direct result of divorce can influence children s lives too. After divorce, some children can find themselves in the family caregiver role. In some instances the older kids take over the responsibility of the younger ones, and the household duties. This often occurs in homes where mothers are busy working long hours and attending school. Caregiver children also try to help their parents along by acting in whatever capacity is needed–mentor, advisor, nurse, confidante. (Wallerstein et al. 7-8).
Children lose the comfortable daily routine of the family life that they re used in the unfortunate circumstance of divorce. Some of these children become lonely as their parents become physically and emotionally unavailable trying to fix their own lives. Most of these children’s material needs for a home are taken care of, but they are often left on their own or with babysitters (Wallerstein et al. 167-8).
Loneliness can turn into anger and many of these abandoned children become adolescence without supervision and have the abiding sense that they are accountable to no on. (Wallerstein et al. 189).
In a study of 131 divorced children, it was shown that one in four of them spiraled into drug and alcohol use by the time they were fourteen years old. However, several kids in a comparison group also abused substances, but rarely before the age of fourteen (Wallerstein et al. 188).
Another trend in the study of divorced kids showed that it is common for girls to become promiscuous at a young age. The promiscuity can continue as the girls grow into womanhood. For some women sex brings the feeling of comfort and being wanted. For others it s a type of revenge against men, they get pleasure from using them and then leaving them (Wallerstein et al.188-9). This leads one to assume that many of the women who have experienced divorce in their lives are troubled and confused about their feelings.
There are children of divorce who have become numb and have learned how to turn their feelings off altogether. Feelings hurt. If they can be controlled, so can the pain (Wallerstein et al. 279-80).
Anger, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, numbness, and becoming a caregiver child are all examples of the situation that children of divorce may experience. But as time passes and children grow, the effects of divorce seem to continually surface throughout their lives. In the research that I have done throughout this paper, I feel that the most lasting affect that divorce ultimately has on children is the fear of failure they experience in their own marriages. The difficulty they have in feeling secure, even in the most loving and stable relationships.
When a child of divorce becomes an adult navigating their own relationships and marriages they can face an extra challenge. Children learn lessons of conflict at home. Kids see how problems are resolved in their families, and these lessons are constant, ingrained, [and] permanent. (Wallerstein et al. 57). Children who come from broken homes tend to have trouble dealing with conflict in their adult relationships because they think that any argument will lead to others, which will ultimately destroy the marriage. The reactions to conflict are quite similar. Some will try to avoid conflict by suppressing their feelings and keeping them bottled up until all the little differences eventually cause them to explode with anger. Others will retreat altogether. But the most common reaction is to runaway at the first sign of a serious disagreement. To a child of divorce, conflict equals danger. These reactions are confusing to someone to someone who was raised in an intact family. For them, marriages have numerous ups and downs, but issues are dealt with and the marriage survives. Some good advice for couples that are dealing with this issue is best stated by Judith S. Wallerstein, author of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, Sulk if you must. Throw things of you have to. But don t leave the scene. Problems in a marriage are meant to be solved, not ducked or avoided. (Wallerstein et al. 56-7).
It is evident that divorce will have an effect on all children involved. It may not effect all children in the same way, or to the same degree of severity. Some people may even argue about how much blame can be placed on the events of divorce for the troubles that the children endure. Even so, one can t walk away from a non-violent marriage and think, This is good for the kids. I would like to say that there is one very important action that parents can take to help their children throughout the years that follow the divorce. Be there for them. Spend as much time with them as possible, more time than you did prior to the divorce. Children of divorce need extra support, comfort, care and attention. There is no magical solution for getting children through this process unscathed, but one should remember to put them first. And let them keep their childhood.
In Judith Wallerstein s book The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, she followed a group of chlidren of divorce for 25 years. She ended her book with a toast, given by the best man, at the wedding of one of the children in her study. I decided to end my paper with it, for it touched me deeply.
To many here today it feels strange to find that one of us is getting married. It s strange because we are a generation of cynical children when it comes to marriage. We came of age during a time when divorce became an acceptable alternative. Ultimately this is good. But the effect on us is one of caution, of skepticism. It s an outdated institution. Why be burdened? But while we were uttering these cynicisms, we were privately nurturing the hope that we could rediscover and experience the romantic and very profound magic that we had heard existed in a far-off time–to see marriage through innocent eyes. But we didn t realize it s not about innocence. It s about realism, about seeing what s really there and not deluding ourselves with false expectations. Ironically, the wonderful thing about growing up in the Age of Divorce is that we have learned so much. It s been very painful but we learned. So we look for signals. When one of our friends tells us he s getting married, we look for signals to assess his chances. Well, I got a signal this morning. As the bride stepped out of the door, I caught my breath. I felt a lump in my throat and I leaned against the car for support. I was stunned. She was so beautiful. But it wasn t just physical beauty. As Elizabeth walked behind Michael, he turned slowly and took her hand. I felt that calm electricity that happens when it s right–the thing, whatever it is, that doesn t happen unless it s basically right. And I paused to appreciate the knowledge that our cynical generation has gained. And I choked back tear. We re okay, Michael and Elizabeth. Speak the truth to each other and be happy (316).
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