Multiple Divorces Strain Kids
Marrying and Divorcing Several Times Can Cause Problems for Children
The prevailing wisdom was that children who experience divorce as they grow up are more likely, as adults, to get a divorce. But, what about children who’ve gone through multiple divorces?
Stephanie Coontz, author of “Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage“ has testified about her research before the House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families in Washington, D.C.
In her view, “Children who go through multiple divorces are not as well adjusted as children who endure only one divorce.” She points to an interesting observation, “Parents who divorce repeatedly tend to be impulsive, choose bad partners and lack the ability to sustain relationships. So the children of these parents tend to grow up with a built-in role-model disadvantage in addition to multiple divorce handicap.”
As their divorced parents remarry or form other intimate relationships, which statistically have an even higher failure rate, these children are forced to deal with the challenges of multiple divorces or separations. They must come to grips with not only the breakdown and breakup of their parents’ marriage, but also the loss of newly acquired stepparents and step siblings with whom they may have developed emotional attachments. This is compounded by the fact that their new parents often move to new cities, uprooting them further.
Virginia Rutter is a professor of sociology at Framingham State College and a board member of the Council on Contemporary Families. She is also co-author of “The Gender of Sexuality,” and “The Love Test: Romance and Relationship Self-Quizzes.” In her view, “Multiple divorces can make the practicality of a child’s relationships — with adults and with peers — more challenging because there are more settings that the child is identifying with, more settings that she considers ‘home.'”
Then there’s the added impact of shifting financial security. What really complicates this is where there are limited economic resources, this makes addressing a child’s need for continuity and security a lot harder. “As children grow up under these circumstances, they are more likely to lose the opportunity to develop secure social networks and skills that kids from more financially secure families — and less disrupted families — find easier to gain.”
Rutter also notes that some kids can be highly adaptable. “These children also develop some special skills, they learn how to get along in diverse situation, how to problem solve, they learn independence. For many children of divorce — including multiple divorces — their resilience means that they will move forward like other kids.”
Rutter feels, however, that kids gain this competence at a cost because it takes a lot of strength and focus to handle these situations. “Given that children of multiple divorces are especially likely to come from poorer families, their challenges continue as they move into adulthood, and they need support for getting a solid college education in order to help them reach secure positions in life.”
It’s little wonder that children of multiple divorced families often find it difficult to maintain lasting intimate relationships. It’s also no surprise that individuals whose parents cycled through multiple divorces are more likely to marry young, divorce, remarry and experience long-term difficulty with relationships. Some experts believe this marriage-divorce patchwork may interfere during a child’s critical developmental years, which can lead to a delay in their social maturation.
Dr. Robert E. Emery, divorce mediation expert and author of “The Truth about Children and Divorce,” approached the problem from a different perspective. “What children experience more than repeat divorces is the repeated loss of new adult figures in their lives, sometimes significant ones,” says Dr. Emery. “As their parents date and perhaps live with romantic partners after their first divorce, young children can quickly form attachments to these new figures in their lives. The loss can be wrenching when the romance breaks up. My advice to single parents is: Go slow for your children, and probably for yourself, too.”
When asked if a parents’ repeated attachments and separations hinder their children in forming lasting relationships when they become adults, Dr. Emery replied, “Children from divorced families are more likely to get divorced themselves, but no one really knows why or whether this finding from past generations willapply to the children of the ‘divorce boom.'”