The Effect of Divorce Upon Children

From the December 10, 2001 issue of Time Magazine

Divorce sometimes best:
From Marital Influence

"The behavior of parents toward each other can have lasting effects on their kids, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researchers at Penn state found that parents who are jealous, moody, volatile, critical  or prone to dominate their spouse have a far worse effect on their child's future marriage than parents who divorce."



From the December 13, 2001 issue of USA Today

Children of miserable couples are more likely to divorce when they grow up, get married:
From Maintaining bad marriages `for the kids' can hurt them

"Couples who keep an angry, belittling marriage together 'for the sake of the kids' tend to raise children whose marriages are as miserable as the ones they grew up in, suggests a new 17-year study of two generations."



The following has not been edited for the printed page.
It is a direct transcription of a segment from Dr. Kenner's radio show.

34 year old Holly Preston finds out that her parents are divorcing.

Now, her parents probably think, oh, you know what, my daughter is already grown up, it won't bother her, she's an adult. She's established in a fabulous career.

Holly knows that her parents haven't gotten along for a long time. That holiday events are quite tense with mom and dad there. They don't like each other. She can see that. She knows that they would absolutely be happier going there  separate ways. And she doesn't want to see her parents unhappy.

But, she is shocked because when she actually hears that they are separating. Instead of celebrating, she starts to collapse inside, she starts to feel very depressed, and she says `You know, I can see this happening with a little kid, but I never expected for it to happen to a 34 year old. I mean, you're already established. These are some of the problems she is  dealing with. She looks at old family photos and she just has this very fractured view of her family now, so one of her tasks that she has is to rebuild it.

Another problem she's having is that she wants to talk to  those people that she normally talks to about the trouble she's going through, and the people she normally talks to about any problems in her life are mom and dad. But when she goes to mom and says, `hey, guess what, my parents are divorcing. Can I talk with you about it, (T18 -10'33") mom's the one who is divorcing! Mom wants to talk about herself and grabs the conversation, switches it to her problems, and so Holly is feeling like she can't even go to her main people, her main supports to talk about this problem.

Now Holly knows there's a solution. Holly knows she's got to make sense of her own emotions and she's got to focus on the reality of the fact that her parents never liked each other and over the years grew apart. She's got the work in front of her of piecing together a healthier picture of her family. With her parents separated, and that's something she had no idea she needed before. And she needs to get some outside support. She can't turn to her parents but that doesn't mean she has no support. She can turn to friends or maybe her husband.

Now, this was  actually from an article in a Sept issue of Newsweek by Holly Hubbard Preston and she was just talking about the difficulties of being an adult and hearing that your parents are divorcing. I thought that was a unique angle to take. Now, you might know that divorce has hit the news. There's been a study by Wallisteen who just says that Oh my god, I've studied these kids whose parents divorced years ago. I've studied them over their growing years and discovered that guess what. When they get to be young adults or teenagers, everything goes haywire for them. So her article resonated around the country and people who were saying oh my god we divorced  and we thought things were going smoothly with our kids but just you wait. When they become teenagers everything's going to go haywire.

Well, I think that's very unfair. I think that some parents, and too many of  them, absolutely handle their divorce in devastating ways that are very highly irrational ways and splatter a lot of blood and damage to their kids and I think they would do the same thing if they stayed together - they  would splatter the blood and the irrationality all over the place and do the same type of damage to the kids. So it's not fair to look at just one small sample, one small study, even though it was done over many years,  and conclude that `You know, you've got to stay together for better or worse, you should feel very guilty for divorcing because you're doing a lot of damage to your kids.

I've had the privilege of working with many  kids whose parents stay together for the kids and the kids come to me saying `I wish they would split. I can not stand being in the same house with them. I try to stay at school later. I try to get involved in  activities. I hate coming home. And I have it even worse that my parents are telling me that they are staying together for our sake! I don't want them to stay together for our sake. That's a tremendous guilt that I have to carry.

Now, I wonder if the woman who studied the kids and came out with this very negative prediction, I wonder what she would do if she studied the same group of parents who decided to stay together but had these terrible marriages. If she did, she would discover that these are not doing well in their teenage years and I suspect she would.

So it really matters how you treat the divorce. Now there's an article by, this in Time magazine, by Katha Pollad, and I loved her points. Some of the things that she said are that you know as baby boomers, you know I grew up in the fifties and sixties, and our parents were supposed to stay together and many and she points out that many of these kids who were in families where the parents couldn't stand each other but that they stayed together for the kids, you know they had to stay together, she calls it a child centered union, when the kids got older and married, those kids said `I am not going to repeat the same thing that my parents did. My father was from the old school and my mother never got anyplace and you know what? If I ever marry a guy like that, I'm going to dump him. I am going to divorce him.

So there was a backlash. It was people saying I couldn't stand that my parents stayed together given that they were so incredibly unhappy. So this generation is saying let's divorce. Now people are looking at this generation and saying you know what? Divorce is really doing a lot of damage so maybe we should stay together even though we hate each other. (5'55") Now, can you see that the situation is that you want to deal with whatever situation your in rationally, respectfully and not splatter that blood with the kids, whether you stay together or leave, you  need to do it with very clear thinking, with some guidance, with some counseling if you feel you need that.

Another point that Katha Pollad makes, she said that these good-enough marriages, when you stay together just for the sake of the kids, you end up full of depressed and bitter people, including the kids, and that's not healthy. And that there are different ways to raise competent and well-adjusted children.  Meaning, whether you are divorced or whether you decide to stay together, you still want to focus on how to help your children go through whatever struggles you are going through. And the main keys you want in your  marriage, if you are trying to recoup a marriage that feels shaky, you want the communication and you want the respect, you want the honesty in the relationship. And with that, your kids will probably not suffer as much  as if you are dishonest, deceitful with one another, slinging, name calling back and forth and overall not communicating well with each other or not communicating at all.