self-esteem (chapters 13 and 14), work on being independent (chapter
8) and tough, vent your feelings openly--but not repeatedly--to a
trusted friend (chapter 12), avoid subtly smearing or openly berating
your "ex" in front of the children, recognize when you are "reliving" old
hurts over and over which only magnifies the current stress (chapter
15), and start planning, after learning from your mistakes, how to
slowly, carefully find a new and better partner. Remember each day in
the former relationship had its own rewards; no relationship is
guaranteed to last forever. Get support from friends, stay socially
active. If possible, forgive your former lover and yourself (chapter 7).
Get on with life.
The negative effects of divorce (abandonment, hostility and over-
burdening) on children
Divorce combines with other factors, such as never marrying, so
that 70% of all children (94% of black children) will experience living
with a single-parent by the time they are 17. About 15 years ago,
research (Wallerstein and Kelly, 1980) documented that going through
a divorce can be very traumatic for children too. There are frequently
(but not always) loud arguments and accusations, 25% of the time
there is physical violence, and eventually one parent, usually the
father, leaves home. The child may have to move away from friends
and into a new school. About 75% of the children oppose their parents'
divorce. To some children life before the divorce had not seemed so
bad because both parents had concealed their fights and tried to
maintain the appearance of a good relationship in front of the children.
In general, many children, no matter what age, have an intense
traumatic response to their parents' conflicts: they fear the fighting
and worry about possible abandonment; they often feel they are
responsible for the arguments and for one parent leaving home. What
a terrible load for a child to carry. The children long for the missing
parent. During and long after the divorce, the children, especially
those going through a custody battle, suffer a variety of psychological
problems--shock, denial, physical problems, anger, panic, depression,
guilt and self-criticism, low self-esteem, and misbehavior. We hoped
the children "could be protected," but half to 2/3rds suffer a long time.
Two excellent recent reviews (Wallerstein, 1991; Amato & Keith, 1991)
confirm the findings summarized below.
At the time of the divorce, boys aged 6 to 12 seem to have the
hardest time; many become aggressive, rebellious with mother, needy
of attention, and socially insecure. Boys have trouble in school and
socially. It is not known why boys, at this time, have more difficulty
than girls, perhaps because males are more belligerent and aggressive
anyway. Perhaps because boys around 5 or 6 are struggling to identify
with dad and pull away from mom. However, 90% of the time, custody
is given to mothers and, after three years, about 52% of all divorced
fathers hardly see their children at all (Francke, 1983). Divorced non-