When two people marry, the last thing they plan on doing is breaking up their family, but divorce often makes this happen. Divorce can sever ties between family members, even if it’s sometimes a good thing for those involved.
Because the causes and effects of divorce range widely, the ways people handle divorce differ as well. It’s said that nearly half of marriages end in divorce. Though that statistic isn’t an actual fact, millions of children still feel the effects of divorce.
Why, and how many, divorces happen
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the divorce rate per 1,000 people in 2005 (the latest study) was 3.6, which is the lowest rate since 1970. The rate has slowly decreased from 4.7 in 1990, then 4.2 in 2000.
Although divorce rates are steadily decreasing, the outlook for marital bliss gets bleaker for those who marry a second time. A National Center for Health Statistics study in 2002 showed that almost 25 percent of second marriages end within five years. Significantly, the study also showed that at least 40 percent of women with children will see their second marriage fail within 10 years.
Columbus City School teacher Susan Truitt has gone through divorce three times and knew that divorce was the right decision every time. She also said she made sure that she had her kids’ interest in mind during and after the divorces. “Divorce is a very hard process,” said Truitt. “You have to admit you made a mistake. And who likes doing that?”
Truitt’s three children have all had to endure the issues of divorce, two of them to the extreme. Truitt’s sons Ian and Austin were 4 and 2 at the time of their parents’ divorce, which was Truitt’s second divorce. Their father challenged custody twice, forcing Truitt to hire a guardian ad litem, whose job is to protect the interest of the children. The battles continued over 10 years, hurting Truitt’s financial stability. “The women are always more damaged because they’re more of the caretaker in the relationship,” she said.
Truitt’s experience has shown her that there is a connection between the parents’ relationship during the divorce and the way children react to the divorce. After her second divorce, there was a great amount of animosity between Truitt and her ex-husband. Her son Ian had a lot of anger, while Austin didn’t seem to be affected as much. Truitt took both her sons to counseling after the divorce. “I made sure I was doing what I could to make them happy after the divorce,” she said.
Truitt’s third divorce ended much better than her first two. The father of her daughter, Tori, was much friendlier to her during and after the divorce. With him, Truitt agreed on a shared custody of their daughter.
The baggage that comes with divorce
Fairmont psychologist Karen Johnson often sees divorce as the cause of many other issues in a teen’s life. Johnson has noticed that when students come to talk to her about issues, she often finds that divorce is the source of their problems. “Divorce has become a much more difficult matter,” said Johnson.
Johnson says she’s also noticed that blended families sometimes present big problems, although they also have the opportunity to work very well. Problems can occur in many ways. Johnson says that if the new family members aren’t open with one another, then they can’t understand family problems and deal with them.
She said it’s also sometimes hard for children to form a relationship with their stepparents if they had an existing relationship with the biological parent who is now missing from the household. That broken bond with a biological parent can lead to a lack of trust, which makes it hard for a child to form a relationship with a new stepparent.
Another source of mistrust can occur when biological parents don’t stand up for their children. Johnson notices that sometimes in a blended family, the biological parent will not support a child in issues in the house and at school, some concerning the stepparent. “I see people who feel betrayed by their biological parents, but on the flipside, I also see people who will play their divorced parents against one another to get things that they want,” said Johnson.
Sophomore Kerrianne Ryan’s parents divorced when she was 4. “I had a lot against my mom, even though I was pretty little,” she said. Ryan doesn’t have a strong relationship with her mom since she left. “I can’t stand her whatsoever. I know this seems bad to say, but I don’t have any positive feelings towards her anymore.”
Some divorces can have a much better outcome. Junior Joe Barton’s parents divorced when he was in second grade, and now his dad lives a block away from his mom, making it easier for Barton to switch every three days. But Barton says it was still unsettling when he heard the news. “I was just cleaning the house when I was told my parents were divorcing, so I didn’t react right away. When I finished, I was just like, ‘Oh,’” he said. Barton was sad for a while after the divorce, but says he “got over it pretty fast.”
Barton’s parents don’t have animosity toward one another, but he knows that some divorced parents avoid each other. Barton believes that his life improved after the divorce, but knows the feelings that form at the start of a divorce. “Trust me, divorce is not the end of the world,” he said.
Johnson says a divorce in the family also can affect a child’s relationships with non-famly members. “Let’s face it,” she said, “relationships with parents are models. A divorce in the family could affect relationships with others at school. If problems occur at home, it could be hard to turn off at school. When stressed, it’s hard to cope with other problems, but you need to face it and take some positive steps.”
How to deal with the baggage
Johnson suggests talking to somebody, like friends or counselors, but if a student dealing with divorce doesn’t feel comfortable talking about it, Johnson says a journal is a good way to start to deal with problems. Journaling can help people get to the point where they can start to talk with other people about it.
If talking one-on-one is uncomfortable for someone, then going to talk with a group can help people understand others’ situations and deal with their own divorce situations.
Sometimes, people simply try to dull the effects of the emotional loss. Ryan says her family had ways of keeping themselves from dwelling on what happened. Her brothers talked to counselors and tried to get more involved in school.
Ryan says she also tried to stay occupied for a while after the divorce. “My dad just tried to distract me from remembering my mom wasn’t there anymore,” she said.