Monday, May 08, 2017

Divorce - The Kids Will NOT Be OK



(On Sunday morning at Redeemer I made a passing reference to Judith Wallerstein's longitudinal study on the effects of divorce on children. So, I'm re-posting this.)

A former cover of Time Magazine had the titillating headline "Is Monogamy Over?" Biologist-psychologist David Barash answered: "We should keep it [monogamy] for our kids' sake." Because:

"It’s very rare for any species to engage in biparental care unless the males are guaranteed that they are genetically related to the offspring—confidence monogamy alone can provide. And because human children need so much parental assistance, protection and investment, humans, perhaps more than any other animal, especially benefit from monogamy."

I meet all the time with young adults whose monogamous (if they really were so) biological parents have separated or divorced. Almost always, there’s devastation. 

I meet with married people who say they are thinking about divorce. They’ve picked up the village-idea that if they divorce, the “kids will be OK.” There is empirical evidence suggesting that is false. Perhaps, for some, it’s their way of trying to justify their own inability to work through their failing marriage. (In my opinion there are only a few kids that do well, and they are rare exceptions. Many couples do not have the tools to fix their marriage. The current parentless generation is spawning teens who have never seen a healthy marriage before. Unless something transformational happens in them, they will mirror their parents’ failures.)

The best book I’ve found about this is by former Columbia U. scholar Judith Wallerstein - The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce. She’s done the only longitudinal study of what happens to kids whose parents divorce. Wallenstein followed these kids into adulthood. Anyone contemplating divorce who thinks “The kids will be OK” needs to read this book. 

Wallenstein writes:
“By tracking approximately 100 children as they forge their lives as adults, she has found that contrary to the popular belief that kids would bounce back after the initial pain of their parents’ split, children of divorce often continue to suffer well into adulthood. Their pain plays out in their relationships, their work lives and their confidence about parenting themselves.”

If you are divorced your kids probably need more help than kids with healthily married monogamous parents.

***
In an PBS interview Wallerstein responds to a question.


adriana_rome: Is there any information on how divorce affects children at different ages? Say a toddler aged child vs. a teen?


Dr. Judith: Well, children who are little ... 2-6 .... are really very worried that they're going to be abandoned. They have so little capacity to take care of themselves. Their logic is that if one parent can leave another, why can't they leave me? They cling to their parents, they have terrible nightmares, they don't want to go to nursery school and all the times during the day and night where there's separation are filled with enormous anxiety because they're so afraid they'll be abandoned and there will be no one to take care of them, feed them, dry their tears, take care of them.

Youngsters who are school aged ... 8-11 ... are more worried about the fact that they're not going to get a chance to do the things they need to do. There's a stage that's being held up by their parents ... the mainstage is at school, on the playground, with other friends, with sports, with music, with ballet ... all the things they do at this age and they're very angry with their parents because they're afraid it will interrupt their activities. They think their parents are being very selfish as the very scaffolding that holds their lives up is going to collapse.

Teens .... are much more likely to be their parents' confidants at the break-up. They're much more likely to be aware of the trouble either parent has been having and they can be very compassionate and caring. But at the same time, they are very angry that the family is falling apart. They figure they need that family support,: especially at this time in their lives when they have so many questions about their own futures. And thirdly, they worry very much at 15-17, whether if their parents marriage went belly-up ... whether their own relationships are going to run into disaster and they're very frightened.