Divorce has become a popular remedy for a failed marriage. Divorce can be one of the hardest and painful experiences parents and children face now a days. The way the child reacts to the separation can differ for each family. The key factor that may affect the child’s reaction process is age, gender, and number of children in one household. The effects are long lasting and will never fade away from ones memory as shown through the emotion of a young adult when she talks about her parents separation: “I remember the exact words my father uttered as tears welled up in his eyes” Your mother and I have decided to get a divorce…. That night, after almost twenty years of marriage, my father gathered together his clothes and moved out of our house. My brother and I were in shock” (Clarke,S. A, 2006,pg.132).
Children coming from divorced families may have long term behavioural problems such as depression, low-self esteem, poor academics, and difficulties with intimate relationships in their future. The aftermath of divorce can become a plague on a child’s state of well being. But on the other hand, Robert Hughes a specialist of human development and family science in Ohio State university affirms that about 20% to 25 % of children are at risk of developing psychological and psychosocial problems and the remaining percentage will most likely be unaffected by divorce. In fact every child will have their own unique response to divorce (Patten, P. ,1999).
Social development in children is determined by many factors and its roots are built from the first day they step into the world. There are many perspectives on how children acquire these characteristics or how they develop into the person that they are. In fact, the issue of nature vs. nurture is one of the major controversies in child development, as it raises the questions and debates on how much of the child’s development is influenced by genetic material (nature) and how much is determined by environmental influences (nurture) (Rathus, 2006). Another controversy is based on continuity versus discontinuity. Moreover, continuity assumes that a child’s development is gradual and slow whereas in discontinuity it is assumed that development occurs in major leaps in which the child experiences changes with time (Rathus, 2006). On the other hand, there is a debate between the roles the child has within his or her development. Some believe that children are passive recipients of the world and others believe that the child is born ready to explore the world and will become active participants in their own development (Rathus, 2006).
Kalter and Rembar (1981) have concluded that there is a correlation between three distinct theories to explain the relationship between the child’s age at the time of divorce and the psychosocial adjustment. The first theory is the critical stage theory which concludes that the affects of divorce on children vary as a function of the particular developmental challenges faced by the child at different stages in his or her development (Twaite, J.A, Silitsky, D. and Luchow, A.K.,1998). In fact, the critical stage theory predicts that the worst possible time for divorce is during the oedipal stage which is from the ages of three to five. Moreover, the second theory which is the cumulative effect hypothesis states that the impact of the divorce upon children is felt from the time the divorce occurs and throughout the lifetime of the child( (Twaite, J.A, Silitsky, D. and Luchow, A.K.,1998) .With an early onset of divorce their will be a greater increase of affects for the child. Last but not least, the Recency theory summarizes the fact that divorce is traumatic at any period of the lifecycle of the child. Furthermore, the affects of divorce are transient and children tend recover completely within a year or two according to this theory. With everything being said we can conclude that Critical and Cumulative theory suggest a more negative outlook for the affects of divorce on children and the Recency theory gives us a sensation of hope.
“There were two positive consequences of my parents’ divorce for me: I discovered my own strength by living through this most difficult experience and surviving the loss of my father; and I developed a close bond with my mother from sharing the experience. She and I have become best friends” (Clarke,S. A, 2006,pg 120).
There is no question that divorce can radically change the lives of children and their parents. Although majority of research has identified numerous unfavourable outcomes in many aspects of the child’s life, there are situations where depending on the effort for success from both parties, children are unaffected and have positive turnovers from a divorce.
Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist has studied long term effects of divorce in children for many years, in her findings she exemplifies that upon successful completion of adjustment steps the child secures their development during their critical years. In her studies Wallerstein described the sequence of adjustment a child must makes during the divorce: “1) acknowledge the marital disruption 2) regain a sense of direction and freedom to pursue activities 3) deal with loss and feelings of rejection 4) forgive the parents 5) accept the permances of divorce and relinquish longings for the restoration of the pre-divorce family, and 6) come to feel comfortable and confident in relationships” (Wallerstein,J.1983a, 1983b).
Furthermore, research indicates that protective factors also reduced negative outcomes for children following a divorce. Although, children exposed to stressors of divorce are at risk , some children didn’t seem to be negatively effected from the experience merely due to the fact that protective factors produced resilience in the children under three categories: “(1) positive personality dispositions ( e.g., active, affectionate, socially responsive, intelligent, high self-esteem, positive mood, flexible, and self-control),2) a supportive family environment that encourages positive coping efforts; and 3) a supportive social environment that reinforces coping efforts and provides positive role models” (Garmezy, 1981). Protective factors help reduce the negative side effects of divorce by decreasing contact to risk factors as it opens the road to successful task accomplishment and growth. By pinpointing aspects of the protective factors one can promote self -esteem for the child through secure and supportive relationships.
Moreover, as adjustments occur during the whole process of divorce some children have shown improved levels of functioning in four areas: Maturity, self-esteem, empathy and androgyny. When intact families break apart, children find themselves in single-parent environments where responsibilities increase. For example, a child may take on more self and family responsibilities. They must participate in the decision making for the family to keep them together and to promote stability. Children also tend to work more in single parent household, by either taking care of other siblings or doing house work. With family support and age adequacy these tasks can help encourage maturity in the child. On the other hand, self-esteem can grow within a child when they effectively learn to cope with devastating affects of divorce. Children from divorced families sometime show a flowing concern for the welfare of their family members. They also have a great understanding for human emotions. Children show great empathy in their personal relationships after they have experienced divorce themselves.
Another positive aspect that can manifest in a child life after divorce is androgyny, which is personality which holds a balance of feminine and masculine characteristics. Gately states in his writings that “increased androgyny in children may develop… if parents model non-traditional attitudes and behaviours or if children by necessity and/or with parental encouragement engage in non-traditional activities following divorce” (Gately, D and Schwebel, A. I.,1992).
Divorce and the consequences surrounding the event have significant life altering affects in the well- being and developmental aspects of children throughout their lives.
Their reaction to divorce depends on their previous ideation of the parental marriage and their own security within the family. A child’s adjustment to divorce is dependent on the quality of parenting and home environment after the divorce. Divorce is a situation in which the child can not control the results. Children are not consulted of the divorce but they must endure the roller coaster ride which can cause distress for the entire family. Research indicates that divorce causes damage to child from which they never can recover from. Although the conflict within the home at the peak of the divorce will not cause the same amount of pain and problems for the children that the broken marriage creates. Divorce may cause to a child to perform poorly in school, engage in delinquent behaviours and have behavioural and emotion problems. But on the other spectrum , some children are better of in a home without constant tension and pressure from the fighting that surfaces from an unhappy marriage. These children tend to be more mature and realistic about life and its circumstances. In fact, successful coping skills almost always drives emotional and personality growth. In conclusion, the consequence of divorce doesn’t affect all children in the same way or degree, as every child has their own unique survival mechanism and coping style.