The following was taken from a divorce study found on focusonthefamily.com. I watched my own daughter struggle emotionally with my divorce. I continued to pursue my own wants, and it is common for many newly divorced parents to do the same. After a horrible experience where I exposed my daughter to a very toxic environment, I came to the very clear realization. My daughters’ needs came before mine, and I had to change my actions and behaviors to prove that to her. Period.
Psychologist Judith Wallerstein followed a group of children of divorce from the 1970s into the 1990s. Interviewing them at 18 months and then 5, 10, 15 and 25 years after the divorce, she expected to find that they had bounced back. But what she found was dismaying: Even 25 years after the divorce, these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change and fear of conflict. Twenty-five years!
The children in Wallerstein’s study were especially challenged when they began to form their own romantic relationships. As Wallerstein explains, “Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage . . . Anxiety leads many [adult children of divorce] into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether.”
Other researchers confirm Wallerstein’s findings; Specifically compared to kids from intact homes, children who experienced their parents’ divorce view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably. (This is disturbing news given that cohabiting couples have more breakups, greater risk of domestic violence and are more likely to experience divorce.)
Behind each of these statistics is a life – a child, now an adult, still coping with the emotions brought on by the divorce.
As Wallerstein put it, “The kids [in my study] had a hard time remembering the pre-divorce family . . . but what they remembered about the post-divorce years was their sense that they had indeed been abandoned by both parents, that their nightmare [of abandonment] had come true.”
Parents tend to want to have their own needs met after a divorce – to find happiness again with someone new. But not only do the old problems often resurface for the adults, new problems are added for the children. As Wallerstein observed, “It’s not that parents love their children less or worry less about them. It’s that they are fully engaged in rebuilding their own lives – economically, socially and sexually. Parents’ and children’s needs are often out of sync for many years after the breakup.” Children again feel abandoned as parents pursue better relationships after the breakup.”
Feelings of abandonment and confusion are only compounded when one or both parents find a new spouse. A second marriage brings complications and new emotions for children – not to mention new stepsiblings, stepparents and stepgrandparents, who often are in competition for the parent’s attention. (And the adjustment can be even more difficult – because it is the adults who choose new families, not the children.)
Lilly expressed it this way: “My loss was magnified as my father remarried and adopted a new ‘family.’ Despite attempts on my part to keep in touch, we live in different cities, and his life now revolves around his new family with infrequent contact with me. This has only increased the feelings of abandonment and alienation from the divorce.”
And the high rate of second-marriage divorces can leave children reeling from yet another loss.
Full “recovery” is nearly impossible for children because of the dynamic nature of family life. While you and your ex-spouse’s lives may go on separately with relatively little thought, your children will think about their loss almost every day. And 25 years after the fact, they will certainly be influenced by it. Life itself will remind them of the loss at even the happiest moments. As Earll explains: “Children never get over divorce. It is a great loss that is in their lives forever. It is like a grief that is never over. All special events, such as holidays, plays, sports, graduations, marriages, births of children, etc., bring up the loss created by divorce as well as the family relationship conflicts that result from the ‘extended family’ celebrating any event.”
Not an Easy Out
What parents see as a quick way out often results in emotional damage that the children will carry for 30 years or more. Divorce is no small thing to children. It is the violent ripping apart of their parents, a loss of stability and often a complete shock. While we often think of children as resilient, going through such trauma is a lot to ask of our kids.
In light of the fact that most marriages heading for divorce can be salvaged and turned into great marriages, parents should take a long pause before choosing divorce. While it may seem like a solution to you, it’s not an easy out for you or your kids.