An intact family is a child’s source of strength and security. Parents welcome the birth of every child. Even before the baby is born, there is already a bond that forms between the baby, his parents, and his/her siblings. This attachment grows because the baby in the womb becomes familiar with the environment outside through the voices he/she hear and the scent of his/her mother. During the years before the child becomes a teenager, his/her mother, father, and siblings form the foundation of his identify. The absence of one parent would have devastating effects on the child’s emotional, mental and emotional health. The permanent absence of one parent, in the case of divorce for example, impacts the lives of the children. Even if the household members would quarrel every day, children would still prefer to have both parents stay together, rather than have a divorce.
Reasons for divorce
Divorce has been in existence for a long time. Centuries ago, it was only the Church that can grant divorces. In the 16th century Henry VIII, king of England, wanted to divorce his wife Catherine; but the pope did not grant his request. The king then separated from the Catholic Church, and established the Church of England. He did this to be able to divorce his wife and marry another one (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006). In the case of the US, divorce laws were implemented for practical purposes.
In the late 18th century, divorce began to be treated as civil proceedings. One of the grounds for divorce was “physical cruelty and misconduct that permanently destroys the happiness of the petitioner and defeats the purpose of the marriage relation” (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006, p.30). The other acceptable reasons were “gross misbehavior,” “wickedness in the violation of the marriage covenant,” “cruel and barbarous treatment endangering [the spouse’s] life, and indignities are imposed on the spouse “to make her life burdensome” (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006, p.30). Revisions to divorce procedures and proceedings took place in the succeeding years. However, despite the availability of divorce, society was still promoting the intact family.
Over the years divorce rates continued to increase. Experts would attribute these to economic reasons, sociological issues, and psychological problems. The dissolution of marriage results from inability of the couple to work out conflict situations in their union. According to American psychologists, individuals who are divorced would find themselves in any of the following situations: “delinquency, suicide, crime, insanity, and bad attitudes” (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006, p.6).
Current situation in the US
Divorce is a fact of life in the US. It is a common knowledge that half of all marriages would end in divorce. Statistics show that there is “one divorce occurring every 13 seconds,” and “41 percent of first marriages end in divorce,” (Irvin, 2012). The rates increase in the succeeding marriages. In fact, 73 percent of couples in their third marriage will be divorcing their spouses. However, the presence of children seems to be a deterrent to divorce. According to Irvin (2012), “divorce rate of couples with children is 40 percent lower than couples without children.” He added that other factors that tend to lower the likelihood of a divorce are happiness of parents, late marriages (couples are at least in their mid twenties), college education, and not living-in prior to marriage.
Impact of divorce on children
Divorce has a devastating effect on children. Decades of research have shown that there is a strong relationship between parents divorce and their children’s “depression, reduced educational attainment, early assumption of high-risk behaviors, and increased risk for suicide attempts” (Vousoura et al. ,2012, p.718). Since divorce is a major life-changing situation, the ways of coping with this event depends on the age of the children. According to Clarke-Stewart & Brentano (2006), the relationship of infants and toddlers to their mothers are affected by the divorce. The reason may be because very young children are very sensitive to their mothers’ emotional problems. If the mother is the primary caregiver then the babies would often be exclusively interacting with the mother and would be able to pick up the stress and emotions of the mother in this highly-emotional period. Clarke-Stewart & Brentano (2006) also related a study which showed toddlers and infants from married families very affectionate when they played with their mothers. In contrast, the children from the divorced families were “less affectionate, positive, and engaged” when they played with their moms” (p.109). In this situation it can be seen that divorce affects even very young children.
The effect of the divorce on preschoolers is confusion. This is the age when they have slowly matured into becoming more independent, such as being toilet-trained, and not crying when the mom leaves them at school. However, the loss of one parent affects their feeling of security. They feel that it was their fault that their father left. They also regress, leading to more behavior problems. Children at this young age believe that the parent who does not anymore live with them do not like them anymore. These kids are scared that the parent who left will replace them with another girl/boy.
Adolescents feel depressed and angry. They understand the conflicts but they still long for a family that is intact. They have to mature faster in order to assist the remaining parent. This means more responsibilities and chores. Sometimes, teenagers have to contribute to the family income. The added responsibilities can overwhelm teenagers and they experience anguish, frustration, and depression.
For young adults, the effects of being in a divorced family would be in the area of relationships. Children of divorced parents are more likely to end up in divorce themselves. Their memories of their parents’ unsuccessful marriage affect their own commitment to relationships. “Adults whose parents divorced when they were young have a weaker commitment to the norm of lifelong marriages than adults whose parents stayed together” (Clarke-Stewart & Brentano, 2006, p. 128).
Recovering from the effects of divorce
Children grow up. The experiences they go through in the early years in their life, help mold their personalities. During the period when their parents go through divorce, the children also experienced a lot of psychological and emotional pain. However, children are able to recover from the stress of divorce. A major factor that enables them to cope well is having a good relationship with their mothers. Velez et al. (2011) emphasize that “children who have warm, positive relationships with their mothers may be more likely to use active coping” (p.244). Active coping means that the source of the stress (for example divorce) is not ignored or avoided, instead there are efforts to address it. Thus, having a warm relationship with their mothers would help children in divorced families cope better with the stress of divorce. Another factor that helps children adjust better is high quality parenting. Studies have shown that “high quality parenting, from both residential and non-residential parent, is one of the most powerful factors protecting children from the negative effects of divorce” (Amato & Keith, 1991 as cited in Sigal et al., (2011).
Divorce is a major life-changing event for children. When their parents decide to end the marriage and live separate lives, the children lose the security of an intact family. The effects of divorce on the children vary depending on their ages. Infants and toddlers may exhibit less warmth to their mothers. Preschoolers tend to regress and they feel that it is their fault that the parents separate. School-aged children are hurt and angry while teenagers become burdened with the need to mature immediately because of added responsibilities. Young adults’ commitment to relationships is affected too. In all these age groups, the emotional effect is the same. All children experience a loss. They lose a parent and they lose the security of an intact family. Divorce is already a fact of life, especially in the US, where one divorce taking place every 13 seconds. This event affects the emotional and psychological health of children. However, the stress of divorce can be addressed through quality parenting. The children’s warm relationship with their mothers is also extremely helpful to overcome the negative impact of divorce.
Clarke-Stewart, A. & Brentano, C. (2006). Divorce: Causes and Consequences. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Irvin, M. (2012, Oct 20). 32 Shocking Divorce Statistics [Web blog]. Retrieved from http://www.mckinleyirvin.com/blog/divorce/32-shocking-divorce-statistics/.
Sigal, A. , Sandler, I., Wolchik, S. & Braver, S. (2011). Do Parent Education Programs Promote Healthy Post-Divorce Parenting? Critical Distinctions and a Review of the Evidence. Family Court Review, 49 (2): 12o-139. Doi 10.1111/j.1744-1617.2010.01357.x. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086750/#__ffn_sectitle.
Vousoura, E., Verdeli, H., Warner, V., Wickramaratne, P. & Baily, C.D.(2012). Parental Divorce, Familial Risk for Depression, and Psychopathology in Offspring: A Three-Generation Study. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 21: 718-725.
Velez, C.E., Wolchik, S.A., Tein, J. & Sandler, I. (2011). Protecting children from the consequences of divorce: A longitudinal study of the effects of parenting on children’s coping processes. Child Development, 82 (1): 244-257.