Myths About the Effects of Divorce on Children:
In the early 1970’s, Judith Wallerstein, began to study the effects of divorce on children. She studied a group of 131 children and their families who were going through the divorce process over a period of 25 years. In her book, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, published in 2000, we learn that children really aren’t “resilient” and that divorce leaves children to struggle for a life-time with the residue of a decision their parents made.
According to Ms. Wallerstein, “If the truth be told, and if we are able to face it, the history of divorce in our society is replete with unwarranted assumptions that adults have made about children simply because such assumptions are congenial to adult needs and wishes. The myths that continue to guide our divorce policies and politics today stem from these direct attitudes.”
In other words we have become a society of adults who put their own needs and happiness before the emotional well-being of their children and justify it all by buying into the myth that children are resilient or time heals all wounds.
Myth #1: If Parents Are Happy Their Children Will be Happy Also:
I’m sure you have heard someone say that if they divorce and are able to lead a happier life that their children will be happier also. The idea behind this myth is that a happy mom or dad automatically means happy children.
People who use this justification are projecting their own feelings onto their children. They are objectifying their children out of a need to find happiness for themselves without having to feel responsible for causing their children emotional pain. They are failing to understand that, though they may be unhappy, their children are probably quite content and don’t care if their parents don’t get along as long as their family is together.
When you introduce a child to the world of divorce, you are altering every aspect of their life. That kind of change is hard to adjust to for adults. Imagine what it must be like for children who are not old enough to reason and intellectualize the situation?
A child’s happiness is not dependent on their parent’s happiness. A child’s happiness stems from routine, having a home, two parents, friends to play with, school activities to be involved in and being able to count on those things being constant day in and day out.
Myth #2: The Less Animosity And Bitterness The Less Trauma:
It is true that fighting and conflict exacerbate the trauma but there are those who believe that if they are able to get along then there children will suffer no lasting negative effects from the divorce. There seems to be a universal belief that the children will end up happy and content with their new life as long as the parents aren’t fighting.
Because of this belief, we focus on the process and not the aftermath of the process. We feel that our energy should be put toward making sure things run smoothly for the children during the process and once we are beyond that we don’t have to worry about any possible negative effects on our children.
This misguided belief is not only harmful to our children but to the adults involved in the divorce process also. Divorce, at it’s best cannot be considered an amicable process. No matter how hard we try there will be bad feelings. Most divorces are not unilateral. One or the other parent is going to feel betrayed and hurt. Those feelings will trickle down to the children no matter how hard you try to conceal them. To think that all will be fine as long as the divorce process goes off without a hitch is unwise for all involved.
According to Ms. Wallerstein,”the parent’s anger at the time of the breakup is not what matters most. Unless there was violence or abuse or high conflict, a child has dim memories of what transpired during this supposedly critical period.”
In other words, what causes the most pain and long-term negative effects for children of divorce is the sadness of their family breaking up, the anger they were not able to express, having to adjust to one parent no longer living in the home. The loss of control over activities because of forced visitation, the loss of two full-time parents in their lives, the sadness they feel around friends from intact families is what concerns a child, not how well his divorced parents are getting along.
It is the aftermath of divorce, not the process of divorce that does our children the most harm. Don’t buy into the belief that once the process is over all will find a happy ending. Focus not only on the process but on what needs to be done after the process to help the children and adults move forward with as little emotional harm as possible.
Better yet, focus on building relationship skills that will help you repair your marital problems and keep yourself and your children out of the Family Court System.