In a comment to a previous post, ‘sm’ raises the question of whether divorce is better for children than having to live in a home where the parents are constantly fighting. This is a very complex issue, and I am always wary of anyone who claims to have a simple answer (even if it’s Dr Phil, sm). You must factor in the needs of the parents, their ability and willingness to forget their own troubles and focus on giving their children their needs, their tolerance level for unhappiness and so on. Yes, if a parent is so desperately unhappy that they are contemplating a murder suicide of the whole family, there is definitely a strong case for separation! The same goes for a very abusive parent (either to the children or the spouse) who is putting his/her family members’ lives, physical health or emotional health at serious risk. But these are rare and extreme cases. What about the ‘average’ unhappy couple?
The common wisdom in recent decades has been that it is better for a child to grow up with one parent in a peaceful home than with two parents in a home full of conflict. You can see the logic in that. It seems to make the best of a bad situation for all parties involved. Except for one thing: it is not true.
Objective studies, properly designed and carefully carried out among large numbers of participants are showing over and over that divorce is worse for children than non-divorce, regardless of the problems between the parents. Here’s an example:
“Based on the findings of this study, therefore, except in the minority of high-conflict marriages it is better for the children if their parents stay together and work out their problems than if they divorce.” (http://health.discovery.com/centers/loverelationships/articles/divorce.html)
For a child, the family unit is by far and away THE most important factor in their sense of security. It is the fixed point in the world of a child that gives them the steadiness to be able to deal with life. A sense of security is a critical ingredient in the healthy growth and development of a child’s emotions, personality and character. Divorce shatters that security. If the two people who have loved you and protected you and solved all your problems cannot solve their own problems, your childlike world is shattered. If one of those pillars of your young world is removed from your home, how can that not leave a huge and gaping hole in your life?
Interestingly, the children of divorce have a higher rate of divorce themselves in later life. It would seem that the example set by the parents plays the crucial role here. There is no marriage without problems, but the child learns from the parents how to deal with problems. If the parents gave up and divorced, the child will feel it is OK to do so in turn. But if a child sees the parents doggedly working to solve the problems and save the marriage, then they too in turn will feel the responsibility to do the same.
One widely reported major study followed families where the parents were experiencing major problems with the relationship over a period of time. After five years, the ones who stuck to their marriage were on average happier than those who divorced. In fact, the majority of those who stayed together were found to have made significant progress in resolving their issues, or at least to be significantly happier with their relationship. The message is clear: if you stick it out, things get better.
An article in the Washington Post demolishes the myth of “Happy Divorce”, something that has been a staple of the movie and TV industry for some years now.
It would seem that there is no such thing as a happy divorce for the children. As the Washington Post article points out, even a divorce with minimal anger and tension is severely damaging for the children. At least, when the parents have been constantly fighting, the children can sort of understand why they might be leaving each other. But when the divorce comes almost out of the blue, the children lose their sense of security. Things seemed to be going so well – how could I know so little about my parents? What other disasters might be lurking unguessed, just around the corner?
The only people who think divorce is a better option tend to be the adults, who see it as being good for themselves, and then find all sorts of reasons as to why it must be better for the children. An example of this may be found at:
But sadly, reality will not be so easily pushed aside. The evidence continues to mount that divorce, in general, is worse for children than staying in a home with an unhappy marriage.
Kids need both their parents.
When a parent is lost to illness or accident, we consider it a tragic event, and feel great sympathy for the poor parent who is left alone to take care of the children. But the parents have no choice in the matter, and must accept the situation and make the most of it. When parents choose by their own free will to create that situation for their children, isn’t it that much more tragic for being avoidable?