Myth 1: If parents are happier
after divorce, the children will be too. In fact, children of divorce
become more aggressive than those in intact homes, suffer more
depression, have more learning difficulties, are more promiscuous, bear
more children born out of wedlock, are less likely to marry and more
likely to divorce.
Myth 2: Divorce is a temporary
crisis whose most harmful impact is at the time of divorce. A related
myth is that if the parents don't fight in front of the children after
divorce, and show love for them, they will be all right. But as Dr.
Wallerstein writes, only after seeing these children grow into
adulthood, did she see the whole picture:
''Divorce is a life-transforming
experience...The whole trajectory of an individual's life is profoundly
altered by the divorce experience...The divorced family has an entirely
new cast of characters and relationships featuring stepparents and
stepsiblings, second marriages and second divorces, and often a series
of live-in lovers. The child who grows up in a postdivorce family often
experiences not one loss - that of the intact family - but a series of
losses as people come and go.''
In fact, adult children of divorce say
flatly, ''The day my parents divorced is the day my childhood ended.''
Their new world is ''far less reliable, more dangerous place because the
closest relationships in their lives can no longer be expected to hold
firm.'' Most lost not only a father, but their mother as well as she
became fully engaged in rebuilding her life economically, socially and
sexually. Parenting cut loose from marriage is ''less stable, more
volatile, less protective.''
Myth 3: The best time to divorce
is when children are very young. In fact, ''youngest children tend to
suffer the most. At an age when they need constant protection and loving
nurturance, these young children have parents in turmoil.'' Half of the
million children whose parents divorce annually are under the age of
Wallerstein depicts Paula whose whole
world collapsed. Her father was an affluent pharmacist, an attentive
husband and parent. Her mother devoted herself to Paula, active in her
school activities, taking her to swimming lessons. After her father's
business went bankrupt, he disappeared. Her mother, able only get a
minimum wage job, transformed from a cheerful person into a strained,
desperately tired, silent and resentful woman with no time for Paula.
Only as an adult could Paula put the
magnitude of these losses into words: ''Suddenly there was no one there.
I spent so much time alone that I tried to become my own company. But
how can you do that as a four-year-old child? I would go for days
without saying a word.''
Myth 4: The major impact of
divorce occurs in childhood or adolescence. Untrue. It is ''in
adulthood the children of divorce suffer the most. The impact of divorce
hits them most cruelly as they go in search of love, sexual intimacy,
and commitment...Anxiety leads many into making bad choices in
relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding'' all
At 15, Paula dressed like a slut,
boasted about being high every day on drugs or alcohol and was very
promiscuous. Six years later she was living with a man who she planned
to marry. Why? ''He loves me, he's kinda hyper, and he likes to party. I
said to him, `It's my birthday, marry me.'' They had a child who was
neglected in their drinking bouts. After a divorce, she was in the same
spot as her mother years earlier - ''no money, no training, no home,
with a child to support.''
By contrast, ''many young men from
divorced families are immobilized,'' not having had any relationships.
This is a major reason the number of never-married Americans has
Myth 5: Staying in an unhappy
marriage is not good for children. Wallerstein interviewed friends of
those whose parents divorced, who went to the same schools as but whose
parents remained intact, even when marriages were unhappy. Few realize
that ''children can be reasonably content despite the failing
marriage,'' she says. But if they divorce, ''the parents have failed at
a central task of adulthood,'' which builds in their children a fear,
`If they failed, I can fail too.'''