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June 2001
THE EFFECTS OF DIVORCE ON CHILDREN
Compiled by Joyce Parker, Ph.D.

Judith Wallerstein has been studying the effects of divorce on children for thirty years. She has published numerous books and papers on the subject. She followed a sample of families with children from the ages of 2 to 18 year old. Her findings have sometimes been controversial. She claims her research has indicated that children of divorce are at greater risk for a variety of psychological problems. She says that divorce is a serious issue for children. It had been assumed in the 1970s when Wallerstein began her research study, that kids might be upset about the divorce during the first year but would recover and return to their higher level of functioning. However, when Wallerstein interviewed the children a year after the divorce, she found that they were very unhappy. They were frightened, angry, and confused. 20 months later, the results were the same. The explanation for their problems seemed to be the diminished capacity of the divorced parents to parent as effectively as before the split up. The youngest children, ages 2 to 4 years old, had the hardest time because their lives were the most changed and their capacity to understand the least well developed. Their physical care was interrupted by the breakup. Since their parents were struggling with their own problems, they were less available and responsive to them. The littlest children felt very lonely. There was also less parental awareness of and sensitivity to acute depression in adolescent children. But the most interesting and disturbing finding is that when these children of divorce reached adulthood, their ability to succeed in intimate relationships is diminished. Wallerstein says, "Children of divorce marry less, marry earlier and divorce more... The part I've added is that children of divorce come to adult couple relationships at a disadvantage because they don't have images in their mind of a functioning man-woman relationship. They don't have confidence to say, 'I can do what my parents failed to do.'" Wallerstein feels all children who go through divorce are at risk. Adult children of divorce come through the experience of their parents' divorce with more anxiety about establishing committed, lasting love relationships.

The author of this article, and founder of the Therapyinla.com website, Joyce Parker, passed away in 2011. To honor her we are keeping her articles posted at this website.


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