Children of divorced parents struggle to cope

It is estimated that 50 percent of all American marriages end in divorce, and that 22 million children in the United States alone live without a father. My parents added to these numbers in 2002, when I was only 5 years old. My mother raised me solely. When I was young, I spent every other weekend traveling eight hours round trip to see my father, but for the past five years I’ve only seen him sparsely — maybe three or four times annually.

As a child it was, of course, upsetting — I wanted a daddy to come to my piano recitals and ballet performances like all the other girls — but the discontent only grew as I did. During the critical teen years of my life I felt the full effects of fatherlessness. There were things I struggled with for months — anger issues and negative self-concept to name two — that my mother couldn’t help me with, but that my father could provide every answer to. Each parent plays a specific role in parenthood, and though different sets of spouses may hold different roles, the loss of any one of those roles can be detrimental.

These aren’t the only areas negatively impacted by divorce. John P. Hoffman, an advocate of the National Center for Fathering, said, “There is significantly more drug use among children who do not live with [both] their mother and father, and adolescents living in intact families are less likely to engage in delinquency than their peers living in non-intact families. [Also,] 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless; fatherless children have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics and thinking skills.”

Similarly, growing up in a one-parent family has been shown to have negative effects on socioeconomic standing as well as physical and mental health, and it increases chances of teen pregnancy. Clearly, on average, being raised by both parents equally will reap its benefits.

Divorce for many can be a touchy subject, especially when we keep in mind that not all cases of divorce are the same. Those statistics are, of course, on average. It’s true that not every child with divorced parents looks on it as a curse, as I may. To some it may be a blessing. Alexis Johnson, from Planned Parenthood, said, “In some circumstances, divorce or separation can be extremely beneficial to a mother or child. In cases involving abuse, sometimes separation can be the only answer.”

This rings true for one unnamed individual I know in particular. Her father, an alcoholic, was known for sleeping around with other women. When he did spend time at home, it was alone, secluded in the basement. Any attempts at conversation this individual made with her father went unanswered. Clearly in this case, disregarding the father from the picture completely was the best thing that could have happened.

We must, however, be wary when considering this mindset, especially when accompanied by the aforementioned statistics. These two combined can easily create a man-hating atmosphere.

Only an awful man could willingly ignore his children or choose to leave them to a life of drugs, crime and academic failure, right? Wrong. My father is an amazing man, yet I’m just as likely to fall to such depths as other singly-parented children. Edward Kruk, Ph.D., in an article published in Psychology Today, wrote, “[Often times], divorced fathers in particular are devalued, disparaged and forcefully disengaged from their children’s lives.” Fatherly neglect is not always the case. Sometimes divorce just turns out that way. The culprit is not always the father, but rather the divorce itself, as well as society’s view on it.

And then again, divorce, just like all other forms of change, isn’t a totally bad thing. For example, if my parents were never divorced, I’d most likely be living in a different state, wouldn’t have the best friends, boyfriend or step-family that I do, and most importantly, my half sisters wouldn’t even exist.

Fifty percent, though, is still a large number. And Hoffman’s statistics are based in truth. Despite all the exceptions, there is no denying that for the most part, divorce has aversive effects on the children whose parents are split. How can such a high divorce rate be lowered?

It is said that pre-marital counseling is very beneficial in creating long lasting marriages.

Martha and Richard Korneisel have been marriage mentors for three years through both Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and Nazareth Lutheran Church. Together they guide engaged couples through conflict scenarios and future-planning discussions, stressing concepts such as communication, patience and understanding. The church views marriage as a permanent bond of unconditional love, so much so that the Bible even speaks of man and woman becoming one body when they are united in marriage.

Korneisel said, “We’ve seen others experience divorce, and at the time didn’t feel like we did enough to prevent it. Now, we mentor to give the couples a way to deal with any issues that might arise, to prevent any further divorces. We bring up scenarios and talk about them with them — giving them example of things we’ve seen or how we’ve gone about resolving similar issues.”

The crux of their work is communication and understanding. Truly listening to and talking with one’s spouse is vital in a successful marriage. With this can come a deeper understanding of where the other is coming from. How each spouse is raised will dramatically affect the way they’ll desire to raise their child, and often those desires are different. Differing home traditions, for example, can quite easily conflict with one another, causing discontent in one spouse. For this reason, it is essential communication and deep understanding are mastered.

Korneisel also stressed the importance of faith and prayer: “In a Christian relationship, it is imperative that God be involved. Ecclesiastes 4: 7-12 says it better than I can: A three ply cord is not easily broken. Involving God in a marital relationship only strengthens it.”

Various statistics show that the original 50 percent divorce rate drops rapidly when husband and wife attend church regularly together, to as low as 3.3 percent. It drops to an even lower 0.3 percent when couples often pray together.

Divorce has had a major impact on my life, as well as the lives of many others in this world today, and everyone’s story is different, and though it may not always have been for the best, there are ways in which we can ease the pain of divorce and weaken its negative effects on children. Either employing marriage improving techniques to prevent it in the first place or finding mother or father-like figures to fill the role of any missing parent are plausible solutions to the seemingly never-ending, ever-broadening problem.

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