Divorce has increased dramatically since the beginning of this century. Unfortunately, the probability that a marriage will today end in a divorce is a whopping 50 percent. Also, the average duration of a marriage has decreased from 17 years in 1971 to just over 9 years in 1990 (Halonen & Santrock, 1997). Halonen & Santrock claim that although divorce has risen for all socioeconomic groups, those in disadvantaged circumstances have a higher incidence of divorce. Suggesting that marriage at a young age, low educational levels, and low income are associated with increases in divorce.
For most, divorce is extremely painful. Unfortunately, children are not excluded from related suffering. It is safe to assume that with such a high occurrence of divorce in our society that more and more children are being affected. For example, increasing numbers of children are growing up in single-parent families. There is no doubt that divorce involves quite a disequilibrium in children’s lives. Doctor Judith Gold takes the issue further claiming that divorce is one of the most severe psychological stressors for children (Gold, 1992).
There are many factors which mediate the effects of divorce on children. It is important to remember that family structure (a divorced versus a non-divorced family) is only one of the many factors that influence children’s adjustment (Gold, 1992). Some circumstances which affect a child’s
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adjustment to divorce are: (1) support systems, (2) the relationship between the custodial parent and the ex-spouse, (3) parenting styles, (4) gender of the child and the gender of the custodial parent, and (5) the age of the child at the time of the divorce (Halonen & Santrock, 1997). Halonen & Santrock claim that the best approach for evaluating effects on children is one which advocates evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the child prior to the divorce, the nature of the events surrounding the divorce, and postdivorce family functioning.
I chose to focus this paper on the impact of parental divorce on a child. To better understand the adjustment process, I decided to interview a 20-year-old woman whom I will call Ann for the purpose of this project. Ann’s parents divorced when she was nine. One of the reasons I selected her as my case study was the fact that I was aware that the divorce of her parents was a dramatic change in her family structure as a child well through her adolescent years. I asked Ann a variety of questions about her life prior to, immediately following, and several years after the divorce. I carefully examined family, peer, school, and cultural influences that affected her adjustment.
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Ann is able to recall vivid details of her extremely authoritarian father and home prior to the divorce. Her parents were immigrants who married at a young age and moved to the United States shortly after. She is the second youngest of six children, five girls and one boy. Ann’s father was the dominant parental figure with her mother being submissive to him. He ran the house quite militantly. Every rule was to be followed precisely, without exceptions. Each child was expected to perform outstandingly in school as well as complete all their cleaning chores in the home.
Through the years, Ann’s father’s need for dominance over his family grew worse. He became abusive towards his wife and stricter on his children. The children were greatly united for they now had the additional duty of trying to protect their mother. Ann felt as though she had twice the responsibility as any child her age. She believed that she could not relate to her classmates and therefore kept to herself.
When Ann was nine years old, her mother filed for divorce in an attempt to provide a more preferable environment for her young impressionable children. This experience was a traumatic change from what Ann perceived to be her family life. Along with her mother and siblings, Ann spent the
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next several months residing with different relatives until the family could find another permanent home. She remembers feeling really sad. She also felt terribly isolated which ruled out the possibility of establishing close relationships with anyone.
I observed feelings of inferiority and depression quite frequently throughout the interview. It is apparent that