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Essay/Term paper: The effects of divorce

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Society Term Papers

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The Effects of Divorce

Divorce in our society has become increasingly common. Fifty percent of
all marriages will end in divorce and each year 2 million children are newly
introduced to their parents separation, (Monthly Vital Statistics Report ).
Demographers predict that by the beginning of the next decade the majority of
the youngsters under 18 will spend part of their childhood in single-parent
families, many created by divorce. During this confusing period of turmoil and
high emotional intensity, the child must attempt to understand a complex series
of events, to restructure numerous assumptions and expectations about themselves
and their world. He or she may be uprooted to a new school, city or
neighborhood leaving their familiar social ties behind. They must often assume
new household duties, possibly feel the financial loss and most importantly
receive less support and nurturing from their parents. These are just a few
implications of divorce but demonstrates how it changes the lives of children.
Each child is unique, so the short and long term functioning of the
children after divorce varies widely. Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) observed and
interviewed parents and children three times in five years, and reported an
estimate of one third of the children come out of divorce unharmed. Another one
third function adequately, but experience difficulties, and the remaining one
third have severe upsets in their developmental process. However the authors of
the "Family in Transition", approach this finding with caution because the
conclusions were made without comparing the children of two parent families.
Never the less they do note there are overall trends in the functioning of
children after divorce. The areas most often discussed are intellectual
performance, juvenile delinquency and aggression, social and emotional well-
being and cognition and perception,
(A & J Skolnick p. 349).
Most research shows that boys are more vulnerable than girls to divorce
related stress and recover more slowly. A. and J. Skolnick offer the
possibility that living with the opposite sex is more difficult than with the
same sex and because the custodial parent is often the mother, boys are exposed
to this situation more often. Another perspective is that girls are likely to
be just as troubled by divorce as boys are, but demonstrate their feelings in a
manner that is more appropriate to their sex role, namely by being anxious,
withdrawn or very well behaved, (Kaslow and Schwartz p. 164).
In examining the data on the factor of age influencing a child's
adjustment to divorce, it seems that older and younger children at the time of
separation experience different short term effects, but share commonalities in
the long term effects. Preschool children with their egocentric forms of
reasoning, blame themselves for a parent leaving and take it as a personal
rejection. This can be associated with a child's disturbed eating, sleeping,
play and toileting, (Wallerstein & Blakeslee). School age children suffer from
loyallty conflicts and fantasize about their parents getting back together.
This is associated with the decline in academic performance or psychosomatic
symptoms. Participating in outside activities help to get away from the
tensions at home, (A & J Skolnick p. 355).
When a marriage breaks down, men and women alike often experience a
diminished capacity to parent. They give less time, provide less discipline and
are less sensitive to their children, since they themselves are caught up in its
aftermath, Wallerstein p.21). According to the Skolnick's mothers become more
coercive and fathers become more lax and indulgent. They make less demands for
mature behaviors and communicate less effectively and provide less affection.
As a result children may become less compliant and parent child relationships
can be associated with behavior problems in the children. In a study done by
Judith Wallerstein, she tracked 131 children of divorced parents 10 and 15 years
after the divorce, she found that diminished parenting continued permanently,
disrupting the child-rearing functions of the family. The role of the child
becomes one of warding off the serious depression that threatens the parents and
holding the parent together. Wallerstein calls these children the "overburden
child". They accounted for 15 percent of the children in her study. Many
become angry at being trapped by the parent's demands, at being robbed at their
separate identity and denied their childhood. They are saddened, sometimes
beyond repair, at seeing so few of their own needs gratified, (p. 41).
Judith Wallerstein also found that divorce has long lasting
psychological effect on many children, one that in fact, may turn out to be
permanent. Children of divorce have vivid memories about their parens'
separation. The details are etched permanently in their minds, more than any
other experiences in their lives. She also identified the "sleeper effect" as
another long term implication of divorce. It is a delayed reaction to an event
that happened many years earlier, (p.60). She saw many young women with acute,
delayed depression which she defines as the sleeper effect and warns of it's
danger. It occurs when many young women are about to make decisions that have
long term implications for their lives.
Due to the different studies that have been followed out and the
research that I have done, I expect to find many changes in children both short
and long term due to the divorce of their parents. I expect that these long
term effects will affect these children when it comes to them making choices
about their future, especially when a significant other is involved.


Subjects : The subjects in this study were a Joe age 4 and Jessica age 9.
Both are upper-middle class Caucasions who reside with their mother in a nice
house in Beverly. Their mother is college educated.
I recruited my subjects through work. I am a full time Nanny for these
two children. I watch these children at their mothers house while their parents
work. The father comes over everday after work and relieves me and watches the
children until the mother comes home. The children seem to have a good family
background because they see their father a considerable amount and their
maternal grandparents only live a mile down the road which makes it more
accessable to see them.

Procedure : In my study I mainly observed these children. Since I see them
almost everyday I feel I can make strong statements as to what I believe. I
carried out my observing in the house while I worked and kept notes. I read the
research and looked for specific warning signs in the childrens behavior. I
also made up a few questions to get a grasp of what Judy, the children's mother
thought about their progress and how they have been affected.


After observing I found many things. I found that Joe had become very
aggressive. I noticed it especially when it came to other living things such as
the family dog. He would also lash out at his sister, as well as myself at
times. He never ment to cause harm but he couldn't seem to control his temper.
At other times he acted even as a younger baby. He would act and talk like one.
Another behavior change was that he wanted to start sleeping with his mother in
her bed , again. Before the divorce Joe, had been sleeping in his own bed in
his own room. It seemed as if he didn't want to leave his mother.
I also noticed some changes in Jessica as well. She started to become
very mouthy. She was very vocal, mostly trying to be wise. It seemed as if she
was doing it on purpose to get a rise out of people. I also noticed that her
grades at school have begun to drop. She has gotten a few progress reports
sent home from school saying that her grades have gone down. I have also noted
that it seems that she feels as though it may be her responsibility to watch out
for and take care of her little brother. She also seems to manipulate her
mother and father. I would catch her saying one thing to her father and
something different to her mother. Her famous words I always hear are "My
father/mother said it is ok."


One of the major findings, I believe is that divorce has a long term
effect on children as well as short term effects.. At one time it wasn't clear
of these effects but now it has been proven by researchers.
Several studies have shown academic achievement of children of divorce
parents are at a disadvantage. They found academic deficits among them, lagging
behind children from two parent families. This was consistent regardless of
social class.
According to parent's, children's reports and court and school records
antisocial actions occur more frequently among children of divorce than other
groups, including intact families. This behavior can be defined as fighting,
bullying other children, cheating ,lying, stealing, and running away.
Sex role socialization can be defined as the goals, values and behaviors
deemed masculine or femninine by culture. Children imitate the behavior of the
same sex and if that parent is absent then boys especially will exhibit a
feminine play preference, feminine self concepts and lower aggression. This was
found to be true of only preschool children and even though the development of
masculine sex roles is slowed it is not long-term.
Social and emotional functioning includes interaction with peers,
emotional states of fear, anxiety, depression and capacity to cope with stress
or frustration. The majority of studies show the social-emotional functioning
of children of divorce is less than intact families, ( A & J Skolnick p. 351).
On the average children of divorce have somewhat more negative outlook
on their world as compared to children in intact families. They are more likely
to evaluate their parents unfavorably, are more pessimistic about their own
future wedding, ( A & J Skolnick p. 351). The Skolnick's point out that 10 to
30% of children in divorced families perceive rejection from their father,
devalue the noncustodial parent, believe divorce is stigmatized or predict they
will not marry.
There are some limitations to what I have found. I was only able to
observe two children on an ongoing basis. Two children is not a lot so for that
reason I couldn't obtain a wide variety of conclusions. Only the one's based on
these two children. Another limitation is that I didn't really get to observe
the children in a different setting, such as school, playground, or after school
activities. So I was unable to compare these children in different atmospheres.
The most important is that I have not gotten to see the long term effects of the
divorce on the children such that a longitudinal study would give me. I also
did not have a culturally diverse sample group to study.
However, I do not feel that my questions were answered untruthfully,
therefore I do not see this as one of my limitations. Since I was a known
person to the children I am sure that they were not acting differently due to my
presence, so that could not factor into a limitation.
I believe there are many implications of divorce. I would suggest that
divorced parents make sure that they are meeting the basic needs of the children.
They need to be nurtured, and cared for by both the mother and father. The
parents should make sure that there is an open line of communication between
them and their children. They should also love them for who they are and not
take out their frustrations of the former spouse on the children. The parents
should never ask the children to choose between them. Children also need their
own time to mourn the death of their mother and fathers marriage, just as much
as their parents need to.
In the school setting I would suggest that teachers do not present a
negative attitude about divorce toward students whose parents may not be living
together, due to divorce or separation. The teachers should not demean these
children nor take pity on them. These students should be treated just like any


Johnson, Linda C. (1989) Everything You Need to Know About Your Parents'
Divorce. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.

Kantrowitz, Barbara. (1992). "Breaking the Cycle of Divorce." Newsweek, Jan. 13
pp. 48-53.

Kaslow, Florence and Schwartz, Lita. (1987). The Dynamics of Divorce. New
York: Brunner / Mazel publishers.

Kohlberg, L. (1966). The Development of Sex Differences. Berkeley Calif.:
Stanford University Press.

Krantzler, Mel and Belli, Melvin. (1988). Divorcing. New York: St. Martin

Skolnick, Arlene and Jerome. (1989). Family in Transition. Scott, Foresman and

Wallerstein, Judy. (1989). "Children After Divorce, wounds that don't heal".
New York Times Magazine. Jan. 22 pp. 19-21, 41-43.


1.) Does either one of the chidren seem to be withdrawn around other
children in school, at home or any other activities?

2.) Did the divorce seem to affect the younger child, Joe more or less
than Jessica? How?

3.) Do you believe your son receives the male role model he needs?

4.) Do you find it hard to discipline your child? If so is it because
they do not listen or they are too aggressive?

5.) Do you believe that both children have the sufficient amount of
contact with their father that they need and deserve?

6.) What is the relationship like between you and your ex-husband? Is
it civil or hostile? If hostile, do you act it around the
children? Do you feel that the children can sense that?

7.) Do you believe that Jessica has difficulty in the school setting?


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