Elizabeth Marquardt’s main point in Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce is, as the title suggests, that children of divorce grow up divided because they are never fully at home. She reports with great subtlety about the routine ways in which divorced kids learn to keep secrets from their parents, and even to lie to one parent so as not to betray the other. She makes clear that joint custody is not the happy solution that some divorced parent activists promote, because it keeps the child perpetually uprooted. Divorce takes children from being the center of one nuclear family, to a perpetual guest in two new families,
The core problem of divorce for children is that even in the best divorce, the child can never have a full life with both mother and father. All of Marquardt’s subjects were chosen because they had kept contact with both parents. We know from other research that a quarter to a half of all divorced children lose all contact with their fathers after a few years. The luckier ones who keep ties to both parents are still divided in their lives, loyalties, and longings. The divorced kids who lose a parent altogether are like emotional amputees.
I have known a number of children of divorce, some of whom have gone on, like Marquardt, to be successful in their education, their careers, their civic lives, and, most impressively, in their own marriages and childrearing. Yet, as Marquardt would be the first to acknowledge, the divorce always leaves scars. Divorced kids are more prone to become anxious over difficulties in their marriages. One of the reasons that children of divorce are more likely to divorce themselves, despite their deathly fear of divorce, is because they either marry impulsively, or throw in the towel too soon. It is hard for children of divorce to believe that they really know how to make a successful marriage, even if other people do.
I find that I can usually tell after knowing a student for a little while whether his or her parents are still together.
Divorce is one of many experiences that scar children. Compared to growing up with violence, or drunkenness, or drug addiction, divorce leaves relatively mild scars. But it always does. Marquardt says that she is not trying to condemn divorced parents, like her own mother and father. Rather, she wants everyone to see that “divorce happy talk” is a self-serving lie that parents tell when they want to convince kids that what is good for the parents is also good for the children.