In Elizabeth Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds, she reports on a valuable new study which compares children from five different kinds of marriages: happy ones, low-conflict unhappy ones, high-conflict unhappy ones, bad divorces, and good divorces. The key comparison is between kids who were raised in unhappy but low-conflict marriages, versus the children of good divorces.
Marquardt’s point is that even the best divorces leave deep scars in kids. This survey, and the detailed interviews which expanded on it, was designed to go beyond normal divorces studies to look at the quality of divorces, and their effects.
Let’s look at a few statistics:
I always felt like an adult, even when I was a kid:
Low conflict: 39%
Good divorce: 51%
I often missed my father:
Low conflict: 38%
Good divorce: 56%
I felt the need to protect my mother emotionally:
Low conflict: 36%
Good divorce: 44%
I generally felt emotionally safe:
Low conflict: 93%
Good divorce: 82%
I was alone a lot as a child:
Low conflict: 21%
Good divorce: 30%
As Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher reported in The Case for Marriage, kids often don’t see their family as unhappy, even when the parents do. As the survey shows, they kids in unhappy marriages still overwhelmingly feel emotionally safe themselves. They have much better relations with their parents. They were not left alone as much.
One of the common effects of divorce is that children are “adultified” or “parentified” – forced to be mature and self-sufficient. At the time, this often seems like a good thing, a sign that the child is adjusting well. In truth, this is one of the longest lasting scars. Children of divorce often date the end of their childhood from the moment they heard their parents were divorcing. Being little adults means they lose being kids, which they miss later.
Half the children of good divorces lose their childhoods with the divorce.