The Effects of Divorce on Children: Married and Divorced Parents

Abstract

The effects of divorce can differ depending on many factors, among which the most important are the behavior of parents and the age and gender of children. It is  essential for children to maintain a contact with both of the parents afterwards. The absence or existence of such a contact usually depends on the relations, on their experience and education in the sphere of children’s psychology. Therefore, the assumption of the research paper is that those children, whose parents pay attention to children’s interests more than to those of their own, and stay cooperative regardless their separation, feel less negative impact from the divorce than those, who get a possibility to communicate with only one parent. The school children aged 13 to 18, who could communicate with both of their parents were compared to those, who were sensitized against the non-custodial parent, were interviewed for the following research. The following spheres of life were analyzed: sociability, intimate relations, educational achievements at school, parent-children relations.

The Effects of Divorce on Children: Married and Divorced Parents

According to the statistics more and more families suffer from divorces each year. Regardless the further behavior of the parents and their relations, for children this is loss of the family that they knew. Numerous research findings prove that divorce negatively affects children on both psychological and physiological levels. However, the scholars research the impact of divorce on psychological adjustment of children in majority of cases. Consequently, the psychologists have investigated the influence of divorce on relations with parents, quality of intimate relationships in future, achievements in various spheres, alcohol and drugs abuse etc. and have proved that the impact of divorce can become a long-term psychological trauma for children (e.g. Ahrons, 2007; Amato, 2001; Allison, 1989; Kruk, 2010; Moon, 2011; Mustonen, 2011; Velez et al., 2011). Therefore, it is necessary to discuss the situation from different points of view considering the attitude of the parents and reaction of juveniles  to it. These effects are closely interconnected; that is why both can help to find the way to avoid the possible negative consequences of divorce or at least minimize them.

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Paying attention to the change of the children’s reaction depending on their age, it is necessary to emphasize the work of Demo (1988). For his research the children, who participated in the investigation, were divided into groups according to their age: infants, toddlers, 3-5 years old, 6-9 years old, 10-12 years old, 13-18 years old. Consequently, it was proved that the reaction of children on divorce can be different: they can feel sad, guilty, angry, anxious or even physically sick. Their gender and age are the factors, which contribute a lot to their reaction. For instance, the adolescents from 13 to 18 years create a group, where the reaction is usually filled with the feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety (Demo, 1988). Since the period of adolescence is associated with growing up, formation of morality and experimentation, it is important that the parents are those, who show an example of the adult behavior. The rules and limits set by the family in this period are very important for the teenagers’ behavior and development. Consequently, lack of a parent can for different reasons make these rules unclear or changeable and cause moral or psychological health violations.

Children regard the divorce as a great change, which means the loss of a parent. Consequently, it is important for a child to keep contact with both parents. Gindes in his article proves the idea of both parents’ importance on the example of relocation of parents (Gindes, 1998). Divorce lowers children’s sense of security and stability; two closest people become not equally accessible to a child anymore.  Gindes (1998) states that after the divorce “the foundation of the child’s world is splintered”. Therefore, in his article he proves that for the proper further child’s development, it is necessary to have a strong positive relationship with both parents, who are not hostile, but amicable towards each other. The best possible after-divorce scenario includes regular communication with a non-residential parent and cooperation of mother and father. Gindes (1998) shows that relocation is important in the mobile society and to what the divorced parents should pay attention in case it is needed.

Another example presenting the importance of spending time with a non-custodial parent is provided in the article of Eymann et al (2009). The findings of this research acknowledge that the life of children from intact and divorce families differs and is influenced significantly by the child’s sex, time spent with non-residential parent, who is more often a father and the parents’ education. Since the participants of the research were mothers and children from divorced families, it showed that the time spent with fathers was significantly lower. At the same time the quality of family relations, social emotional functioning and behavior, self-esteem, mental health and behavior were significantly lower. Consequently, the above mentioned findings prove again that psychosocial quality of children’s life at school-age is significantly influenced by parent’s education and attitude towards their child’s interests.

The next  research based on the interview of 118 married and 114 divorced parents provided by Moon (2011) is also worth attention for in the given research paper and supports Eymann’s hypotheses. Moon (2011) proves that the behavior and experience of parents are of great importance by handling the divorce effects for children. Having analyzed the attitude of parents towards the influence of divorce on psychology of their children, Moon came to the conclusion that married parents believe that their divorce would have more negative effects on children than divorced parents do. Consequently, they pay more attention to their children’s interests and problems than to those of their own.

In order to lessen the negative effects of divorce, it is important to find out the reasons evoking them. Hence, Amato in his article (2001) presented an updated research of the impact of divorce on children in the 1990’s. His hypothesis was that the effects of divorce had lessened in the 1990’s, and some factors, which are responsible for that change, are as follows: sophistication of the studies in the sphere divorce; as it got easier to divorce, less troubled families were being included in the divorced population; more extensive interventions.

Explaining the adjustment problems in adolescence between children of divorced and two-parent families Simons et al. (1999) emphasized such factors as parental conflict, family income, psychological adjustment of the custodial parent, practice of a custodial parent, as well as the non-custodial parent involvement. His research was based on the series of questionnaires defining parental factors, among which the following were marked: income, parenting practices, parents’ depression and conflict, and children’s adjustment problems. As a result, the findings showed a close connection between the children’s adjustment problems and the divorce of their parents. In the case of the boys’ conduct problems, the research showed a significant relationship with parenting practices, which were likely to be impaired because of the divorce. In the case of girls’ conduct problems, a parental conflict had a significant impact. Paying attention to children’s depression, it is necessary to mark out that according to Simon et al. (1999) the boys were not affected by the mediating variables. At the same time the girls’ depressive states were  influenced by the mothers’. Therefore, it is obvious that the divorce and the parental conflict have a significant negative impact on children’s behavior in the period of adolescence.

The impact on girls differs from that one on boys in long-term perspective. Mustonen et al (2011) in the article described how the parental divorce influenced the quality of intimate relationships and psychosocial resources in the future. The research was based on questionnaires of children from the divorced families at the age of 16 and later of 32 years. Consequently, the scholars concluded that men and women from the divorced families more often separated at the age of 32 than those from the intact families. However, the parental divorce affected daughters more than sons. Women, who suffered from the parental divorce in childhood, had poorer relations with their parents in adolescence. Moreover, they were characterized by lower self-esteem and social support satisfaction.  The gender divergence can be caused by the fact that after the divorce, in most cases, the mothers are the residential parents. Consequently, the daughters absorb their negative attitude towards marriage. Another possible reason is the difference in psychosocial resources. It such case, it is possible to state that men are less impressionable by the negative impact of parental divorce than women.

The next research, which proves the inappropriateness of bringing children into parental conflicts, was held by Ben-Amy (2012). The research was based on the survey of 118 individuals, whose well-being was analyzed according to 5 domains: self-sufficiency, alcohol abuse, depression, attachment, and self-esteem. Consequently, it was found out that the attempts of one parent to turn a child against another one caused lower self-sufficiency, lower self-esteem, a lack or low level of secure attachments, and more frequent lifetime depressions. The domain that, according to the provided research, was not influenced by parental post-divorce disputes was alcohol abuse. As a result, the psychological amicable atmosphere between two parents is obviously contributing much to the health of children.

Taking into consideration another point of view, not only children’s gender difference, but also the parents’ one is important in divorce studies. Therefore, it is important to regard not only the relations of parents between each other, but the attitude of fathers and mothers towards children. The mothers become the residential parents more often than the fathers. They usually  participate more in the children’s upbringing than fathers. Hence, the warm and positive relations with mothers have a positive impact on the  development. The research described in the article of Velez et al (2011) shows that child-mother relationship are connected with the processes and improves coping efficacy and active coping. Nevertheless, the relations with fathers are not less important. The assumption that fathers stay indifferent to the loss of relations with children or to the usual to them atmosphere is erroneous. For instance, Kruk in his article (2010) provided the experimental evidences that fathers’ psychological reaction to  a possible loss of child-father relations is quite strong.  As in most cases mothers become custodial parents after the divorce, fathers can feel lonely and depressed. The suicide rate after divorce among fathers is much higher than among mothers. The article also emphasized the psychological perspectives of father-child bonds, which determined their participation in child care (Kruk, 2010). The responsibilities are divided between both parents, and during the last decade the fathers have become more involved into it. Consequently, father’s influence to child’s sex-role, intellectual, moral development, achievements motivation, social competence is very essential.

The relations of the parents after the divorce, such as parents’ remarrying and cohabiting also have an impact on the further life of the children, not only right after the divorce, but also in the long-term perspective. Ahrons (2007) in his research of such influence interviewed the children twenty years after the divorce and has reported the evidences that children, whose parents were cooperative, had better relations with parents and other family members. This is an important fact for the future success in life and less negative emotions during the lifespan.

Indeed, the researches mentioned above provide numerous evidences that a family plays a great role in children’s psychological development on all levels. The divorce is a negative event, which destroys the friendly atmosphere between the parents and, therefore, influences the further child’s behavior. In order to prevent the negative consequences, which can result in deterioration on the level of  academic achievements, conduct, psychological adjustment, self-concept, and social relations, it is necessary to provide a child with necessary for them mother-child and father-child relations, which are obviously equally important. Therefore, even if divorce took place in the family the image of the parents, who stay happy, support friendly relations and discuss their children‘s problems, should become helpful to avoid the negative consequences of divorce.

In the current research children from the divorced families were interviewed, and the influence of parents’ relation on their behavior in the society, intimate relations, educational achievements, self-evaluation were researched. The participants were divided according to their parents’ post-divorce relations and gender. They were interviewed with the help of closed-ended questions, which indicated how the absence of communication with one of the parents influenced different spheres of their lives. Therefore, taking into consideration the previous researches of the divorce negative effects on children, it is necessary to investigate how they can be minimized. The findings show which sphere of children’s life is influenced more; and why parents should stay cooperative and amicable towards each other after the divorce.

Method

Participants

In order to test the hypothesis that the post-divorce communication of parents has an impact on children’s psychological state, the age group of adolescents aged 13-18 was interviewed.  The children from the divorced families (10 persons, whose parents were cooperative and amicable, 10 persons, whose parents were struggling against each other, age range: 13-18) were found with the help of social networks and asked to participate in the research. The interview was anonymous, confidential, ethical, private, and the response rate was 100%. For testing of the second hypothesis that the gender of children is influential for the results, each stratum of 10 persons consisted of 5 male and 5 female representatives.

Research design

To gain the evidences of the influence of the parental conflicts or communication after the divorce on their children, and uncover the spheres of the strongest influence on children, a qualitative research based on the analysis of twenty interviews was held.

Materials and Procedure

To collect data for the research, all the participants were provided with the same questionnaire lists of eight closed-ended questions, which investigated children’s mental state on the level of behavior in the society, educational achievements, intimate relations, child-parents relations. The list for the observatory groups included a total of eight questions, each of which had two possible answers defining high or low levels of the events or feelings accordingly. The sampling method chosen for the research was a probability stratified sampling method, which reduces sampling error. As it was mentioned above, the questions were closed-ended, aimed to compare the levels of intimate relations, child-parental relations, educational achievements, and confliction society position of the children of divorce, who were treated in different ways. The answers were sent through the e-mail and afterwards grouped according to 2 strata and analyzed according to 4 spheres of influence. Afterwards, as the previous researches of the scholars proved that there exists the difference between male and female reaction on the divorce (e.g. Allison, 1989; Simons, 1999; Velez, 2011; Kruk, 2010), it was necessary to compare the answers of the gender subgroups of both strata. The results of the research were depicted in the diagrams presented in attachment (see Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3).

Measures

According to the data analysis, the average age of all the participants was 14, 5 years. This age group is referred to as adolescents, and, in general, is characterized by high emotionality and the main norms and aims establishment, which is important to take into account for the further discussion. The calculations showed that regarding the behavior of the first stratum of the society, 90% of the participants were bent to conflicts and rarely took part in the social school life while the index for children from the second group was only 20%. The education achievements were average for both strata and got 8 and 7 points out of 10 possible accordingly. Regarding the intimate relations it was calculated that the children of those parents, who struggle after the divorce feel lonely 40% more often than of those, who cooperate with each other and have a lower index of friends’ number, which was calculated as 2 for the first group and 5 for the second one. 100% of the interviewed children from the first stratum stated that they lacked the communication with a non-residential parent. Only 10% of the second group participants answered positively to this question.

Comparing the data considering gender differences it is important to mention that 100% of girls from the first stratum appeared to be bent to conflicts and did not take part in social events, and only 80% of boys answered the questions in the same way. The points for education achievements for boys and girls were not very different and were calculated as 8. The index of loneliness was higher among girls, 100% of answered that felt lonely often. 80% was the index of the boys, who answered the same questions. The number of friends among both genders did not differ. 100% of both male and female participants lacked communication with their non-custodial parents (see Figure 2). Regarding the difference between male and female participants from the second stratum, the indicators of three spheres were different: education achievements, intimate relations, lack of parental attention (see Figure 3).

Results

The findings of the research show how the behavior of the parents influences the children’s life after divorce. It is obvious that sensitizing the children against a non-residential parent and inter parental conflicts after the divorce have a negative influence on the child’s development. Comparing two strata, the difference between which lies in the parental behavior, it is necessary to emphasize that the sphere of relations between a child and is influenced the most. 100% of the participants, who did not have the possibility to communicate with a non-custodial parent, felt the lack of attention and communication with them. Among those, whose parents were amicable and cooperative, only 10 % of the participants answered the question positively. All of them were female representatives. This can be explained by girls’ higher level of emotionality and sensitivity. The next sphere dealt with difficulties in intimate relations. The participants of the first stratum were obviously less communicative and had fewer friends. Again the index for the female representatives was higher than the male one. The educational achievements of the children were not influenced by the parents’ behavior. Proneness to conflicts among children from the first group was much higher. It means that children from the divorced families lose the ability to avoid and soothe the conflicts and do not tend to participate in the social life. Comparing to the second stratum, the representatives of the first one were less communicative and bent to loneliness and conflicts. Finally, the communication between children and their parents, usually non-custodial ones, is the sphere, which is influenced the most. It is more difficult for them to adjust in the children’s group and they are more introvert.

Discussion

The results of the research present the evidences of the negative effects of divorce on children. Though the divorce itself appears to be a psychological trauma for the parents as well, its effects can be minimized with the help of influence on their post-divorce behavior. That is why it is necessary to make the parents aware of the peculiarities of the child psychology and importance of communication with both of the parents.

As the adolescent age group needs to be investigated, the research was based on the answers of children, whose average age was 14,5. The parental conflicts and behavior in general obviously have an impact on the mentioned spheres of children’s lives. The parent-child relations are influenced the most and the educational achievements of children are influenced the least. Nevertheless, the indexes can be not accurate. It is important to mention that judging the influence of parental behavior on such spheres as adjustment in the society, educational achievements, intimate relations, lack of parental attention for the adolescents’ group should take into account the peculiarities of their age. The number of the participants was not high. Consequently, it is difficult to calculate the accurate percentage. Moreover, it is necessary to question the parents of the participants to get more precise results.

To sum it up, regardless the inaccuracy of some indexes, the research contributes to the studies of the divorce effects on children and gives evidences that parents should put the children’s interests prior to those of their own. Moreover, educating parents about the effect of divorce on their children should influence their decisions and post-divorce behavior positively.