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When a boat is sinking, all the passengers are given life preservers.
When a marriage comes to an end, a similar state of emergency exists, but no
one hands you a life preserver. You and your children are on your own,
thrashing about, trying hard to survive. Many parents in this situation feel like
helpless, frightened children themselves, wishing someone or something would
save them. Imagine, then, how devastated and powerless children feel. A
separation and divorce is a shocking experience for them, for their very
existence depends on their parents. They sustain tremendous losses and
experience great pain, during, and after divorce. This crisis and tragedy of
divorce is that this time, when parents are usually least able to help or even
think about helping, is when children need their help most of all (Bienfeld,1). The
effects of divorce on children can be devastating.
To children, divorce does not mean the second chance that it so often
means to one or both parents. To children it is the loss of their family - the entity
that provides them with support, stability, security, and continuity in an often
unpredictable world (Bienenfeld, 92). Children assume that their family is a given
and that their parents are permanent. Studies uniformly find that divorce is a jolt
to most children. Even youngsters that have lived in tense, conflict-ridden home
for many years seldom think of divorce as a remedy for unhappiness; the remedy
would be for parents to stop fighting (92). When suddenly divorce becomes
reality, the assumptions children have accepted as givens and the structure they
have relied on crumble, they feel not only vulnerable but powerless to have any
influence on a situation the profoundly impacts their lives.
During a divorce children's feelings become extremely confused. Many
children feel intensely rejected, perceiving that the parent is leaving them as well
as the spouse. Intense fears of abandonment are not uncommon. In the widely
cited California Children of Divorce study, Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly
found that one-half of the children they studied were intensely afraid of being
abandoned by their fathers, while one-third feared abandonment by their
mothers. A few even feared they would be placed in foster homes. Not
suprisingly, children's self-esteem frequently takes a plunge after divorce.
The majority of children are intensely sad and feel a deep sense of loss -
of their family, their security, even their daily routines and family traditions (93).
Many children have little control over their tears. Here is how a fourteen-year-old
girl described how she felt when her parents were divorcing:
"The divorce really affected me emotionally. I just felt bad
all the time, I used to cry a lot, and when I wasn't crying, I
would feel like crying.... it was just a terrible time in my life"
Anger, also, is a fairly common reaction among children going through a
divorce. Many feel betrayed by the very people they have trusted to protect and
care for them. They feel no one is considering their needs, and they feel
powerless to change the situation that is disrupting their lives. Some children
hide their anger, fearing it will further upset or alienate their parents. Others
have explosive outbursts. While some act out their anger in temper tantrum,
noncompliance, aggressiveness. destructiveness, rebelliousness, and
Some youngsters, especially younger ones, are haunted by gnawing
feelings that they are responsible for the divorce (91). Some will remember
overhearing fights concerning them, while others will remember their parents'
upset over their fights with their siblings. Some, even, will turn into model
children, hoping they can undo the damage they think they have done. One child
confessed the following the her mother years later:
I felt I was being punished by God for being really
bad, so I tried being really good so God would
change His mind... and let Dad come home
On the other hand, some youngsters feel relief when their parents
divorce, although, it appears that this happens to only a relative few. One widely
cited study found that fewer than ten percent felt this way - most often older
children who lived in fear that the violence in the their homes would end in
physical injury (Clapp, 94). Several studies have reported that initial feelings of
relief are sometimes temporary and are later replaced by sadness and anger.
Do children of different ages react differently to divorce? Some people
feel that divorce is easier on older children because they have more sources of
support outside the family. However, div
Names mentioned in this term paper
Dr. Clapp, Dr. Bienenfeld, Krementz, Drs. Judith Wallerstein, Kalter, Joan Kelly, a fairly common reaction, Franke, Alfred A. Knopf, Macmillan, J.S., John Wiley, Genevieve Phd, Neil,
Locations included in this research material
New York, California,
Health Conditions referenced in this paper
anxiety, depression, plague, headaches, asthma, irritability, drug abuse,
Facility talked about in this research paper
Keywords included in this research paper
divorce, the divorce, your child, parent, these children, New York, temper tantrums, the other, long term, behavior, Judith Wallerstein, abandonment, age group, preschoolers, pain, problems, experience, One child, anxiety, parental, mental health professionals, to survive, trying hard, self destructive behavior, foster homes, common reaction, family traditions, statistically significant, thumb sucking, all ages, sleep disturbances, right and wrong, one unit, a life, physical injury, single parent families, drug abuse, teens, promiscuity, distancing, Basic Books, divorcing, worry, clinging, symptoms, security, self esteem, delinquent, grief, adolescents,