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Maybe We Are Ruining Our Children With Divorce

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shutterstock_142761574__1373125883_142.196.156.251I understand that children of divorce experience turmoil. I was a child of divorce. I always believed it was the situation that necessitated the split to begin with – not the divorce itself that made children more miserable. I may have been wrong about this.

From The Telegraph:

Researchers found that the turmoil endured by youngsters has a crucial influence on nearly every facet of their later life.

The chances of suffering a difficult childhood leapt for those born after 1971, when the UK law changed to make divorce easier. This generation was found to be significantly more likely to smoke, drink heavily, take drugs, fight, be mentally ill and have sex underage.

I always believed that households headed for divorce were an unhappy place for children  anyway. I’ve always had a hard time blaming the divorce itself. I know it’s traumatic to be shuttled between two households. It’s definitely traumatic to witness a parent moving out of the house you have always shared. But being raised in a household where two parents don’t get along or like each other is traumatic, too. As an adult, I wished my parents had divorced sooner. I assumed the trauma I experienced as a child had more to do with witnessing their crappy relationship. Now – if I really think about it – I’m not so sure.

Even though my parents weren’t exactly modeling a healthy relationship for me, I didn’t start experiencing severe depression until after my father moved out of the house. Maybe I was just used to their silent, angry dynamic. Maybe I had grown immune to it. In retrospect, I can say that I didn’t start acting out – experimenting with drugs, suffering from eating disorders, having a lot of anxiety – until after he left.

A cross-section of 1,500 people were asked if they had faced a range of 11 circumstances, known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), covering abuse, family break-up, being raised with domestic violence and drink or drug addiction.

Coupled with details of their current lives, the research revealed the legacy of broken homes appears to weigh more heavily than any other factor, as among the worst affected group – those with four or more ACEs – two thirds had seen their parents go their separate ways, compared with an average of 24 per cent.

Would I have experienced the same turmoil if my parents had stayed together? I have no idea. I’m also not suggesting that people should stay in miserable marriages to benefit their children. There’s nothing great about seeing your parents unhappy. It’s just jarring to see research that claims after divorce laws became more lax – children started suffering more. I always assumed children were suffering because of the effects of witnessing an unhappy marriage – not from the divorce itself. This research just makes me realize that I may have never really given enough credit to these studies that claim children of divorce are worse off than children who grow up with both parents around.

(photo: Barry Barnes/ Shutterstock)