Thursday, October 04, 2012

What Divorce Really Does to Children

Judith Wallerstein

Does anyone really think that a child who experiences his mother and father divorcing will be unaffected and "get through it?" Only someone ignorant and, I think, self-interested (adultocentric) would think so.

This is the message no one wants to hear. U-C Berkeley psychologist Judith Wallerstein delivered it in her landmark, never-before-done 25-year longitudinal study of what happens to children of divorce - The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study. I read it years ago, and occasionally lent it to oblivious parents who parroted the words "My kids will be OK."

I saw today that Wallerstein died this summer. The nytimes obituary on her passing said:

"In 1971, Ms. Wallerstein began studying 131 children from 60 divorced families in Marin County, Calif. She followed them for 25 years, conducting intensive interviews every five years.
Not unexpectedly, many of the children were extremely distressed soon after the divorce. But she was surprised to find that the problems often lasted; 10 and 15 years later, half the children were still suffering and, she wrote, had become “worried, underachieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women.”
They had a tougher time than most people in forming intimate relationships. Only about 40 percent eventually married, half the rate among the general population. Those who did marry were more likely to divorce than were people who had grown up in families that remained intact.
In 1976, Ms. Wallerstein told The New York Times, “I don’t want to say don’t divorce, but I think the children might even prefer having an unhappy family” to one riven by a split.
It was a message many people did not want to hear."