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Divorce hurts kids

December 30, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
Divorce does more damage to kids than parents like to think.

That's the conclusion of a British survey done by the online site Netmums. The site surveyed 1,000 divorced parents and about 100 of their children and got wildly varying results. More than 75 percent of the mothers said their kids had coped well with the divorce; only 18 percent of the children who were surveyed said they were happy with their parents' divorce.

One in 20 of the kids were using alcohol; one in nine had self-harmed, and one in six had thought about suicide. Only 1 percent of the parents had any idea that their kids were drinking, were suicidal or had hurt themselves. A third of the children, who were between the ages of 8 and 18, described themselves as "devastated" by their parents' divorce. Nearly 40 percent of them hid their feelings from their parents. Of the divorced parents, only 10 percent acknowledged that their kids had seen them fighting, but 35 percent of the children said they had seen their parents arguing.

This survey has appeared in most of the British newspapers this weekend and the self-defensive comments on newspaper comment forums are interesting. Undoubtedly, it simply hurts too much for these parents to realize how much they have hurt their children. Like the U.S., the United Kingdom is a country where there are many divorced and never married couples. It is the conventional wisdom that kids are better off with divorced parents than they are living in a home where the adults are fighting all the time, even though many recent studies would suggest this is probably not actually the case. Unless the parents are actively abusive to each other, kids probably fare better when their parents stay together "for the sake of the children" even if the parents are no longer entirely happy together.

What seems to do the most damage, judging by the Netmums survey, is high conflict divorce, where parents continue to fight and use their children as pawns against one another even after the divorce papers are signed. Judith Wallerstein wrote a book several years ago called "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" that documented the damage done to children of divorce well into middle age. Their parents' divorce had a profound effect on their ability to have healthy adult relationships, to trust other people, and the way they raised their own children. Among some of the disturbing findings of Wallerstein's study: children from divorced families are three times more likely to be referred for psychological help by schools than children whose parents are still married; children from divorced families are more aggressive, have more learning problems and are more likely to have problems with peer relationships than kids whose parents are still married; children with divorced parents become sexually active earlier, have more sexual partners as teenagers and are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol as young teenagers than are kids from intact families. As adults, people whose parents were divorced are less likely to marry themselves and are more apt to have psychological problems. About two out of three of the adults in Wallerstein's long-term study of children of divorce had decided not to have children themselves. Those who had were more likely to have had children out of wedlock.

This is the kind of survey that I hope will serve as a wake up call for some of the people out there who are considering a divorce and might still be able to save their marriages. Hopefully, it will also remind people who are already divorced of the importance of getting along with their child's other parent. The selfishness of divorced parents can and often does impact the lives of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.


Article Comments



Jan-03-14 6:04 PM

They've also done studies that show that kids fare better in homes where the parents stayed together, even if the parents weren't happy. I saw a similar study a few years back that measured the outcomes of kids from "marginal, borderline neglectful homes" with troubled parents and kids who had been taken away from marginal homes and put in foster care. The kids in foster care did worse than kids from similar homes who were left to grow up with their imperfect parents. Unless we're talking about really severe abuse, kids are better off growing up in homes with their biological parents and other family members.


Jan-02-14 7:54 AM

I would say it is a blog about the high cost of divorce to children and society at large. I imagine most people will continue to ignore those costs because they care more about their own happiness and their own needs. Half of all marriages do end in divorce. But, assuming that your spouse is not abusing you or the kids and is not engaged in criminal behavior, your kids will probably be better off if you at least try to work it out.


Jan-01-14 12:49 PM

I am not sure if this is meant to be cautionary tail about divorce or to guilt people into staying in miserable marriages.

We are now in a society that sees having children before marriage as a viable alternative to commitment(gay, straight, don't care) They are seen as an accessory (ie seniors wanting their baby in the graduation ceremony, etc.), a glue to hold a bad relationship together, a pass to financial aid. I have overheard the comments of 20 something's "ready" for a baby but not ready for the commitment of marriage. No, a baby does not complete you or give you someone who loves you. Doesn't raise your self esteem or make you an adult (sorry MTV). The selection process for a mate, a partner, a co-parent needs to be much sooner and more mindful BEFORE marriage, before babies! The misery of a bad marriage with kids damages no matter what.

If divorce brings PEACE so be it!


Dec-30-13 11:20 AM

I don't think kids have much choice and are forced to move on. But later in life when what I call the reflection years are beginning we seem to see life itself in a new light. I think this new light causes suppressed childhood emotions to start to flow somewhat freely and uncontrolled. I think the suppressed emotions are typically installed when we see people give up on each other and also what at one time was of great importance... Family.


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