Children of Divorce: Easing Their Pain
Andrea B. was four years old when her parents divorced.
"I remember feeling scared and uncertain and helpless, like my world was falling apart," she says. Neither of her parents explained the break-up to Andrea, who was first plagued by nightmares, then by guilt. "As much as my head might tell me my parents' divorce wasn't my fault, deep-down, I felt like it was," she says.
Andrea kept in contact with her father but lived with her mother. She initially overcompensated for her loss by becoming a super-responsible perfectionist, "partially because of an unconscious fear that if I wasn't good enough perhaps my mother would leave me, too," she explains. As Andrea grew older, she overcame most of her fears, yet she still battles shyness and the deeply rooted belief that her father left because something was wrong with her.
Research suggests Andrea's response to her parents' divorce is not uncommon. Psychologist Judith Wallerstein and colleagues offer surprising and controversial conclusions that even seemingly well-adjusted children of divorce can suffer from its impact long after childhood.
"Parents need to know what a radical change divorce brings to their kids no matter how carefully they plan," says Julia Lewis, PhD. Her 25-year study of 93 children concludes that when parents divorce, children are more likely to grow up with continued fears of loss, change, conflict, betrayal, and loneliness. Even those who had no obvious problems with grades, friends, or inappropriate displays of aggression faced emotional after-effects during adulthood, Dr. Lewis says.
Last reviewedDecember 2013by Michael Woods, MD
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