KRT Wire | 11/28/2005 | Study: Wounds of divorce linger long past childhood
BY PATRICK KAMPERT
By the time she was 5, Elizabeth Marquardt was traveling across the country alone, flying coach as she moved between her divorced parents. She says her parents split with very little conflict, perhaps owing partly to another kind of distance – geographical – between them.
Now 34, Marquardt seems well-adjusted, dividing time between her job as a resident scholar for a Washington, D.C., think tank and her own family – husband and two kids – in Highland Park, Ill.
But beneath the veneer, Marquardt says she and other young adults who grew up in the divorce explosion of the `70s and `80s are still dealing with wounds that they could never talk about with their parents. It’s that family situation that also serves as the backdrop of the recent movie drama “The Squid and the Whale.”
Marquardt’s own experience, she says, was a catalyst for her research in what she calls “the first national study of children of divorce,” conducted with sociologist Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin. The results of the study – and a poignant narrative of her own experience – are contained in her new book, “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce” (Crown, $24.95).
The key findings of the study by Marquardt and Glenn are these:
_The grown children of divorce say there is no such thing as a good divorce.
_Children of divorce say they spent a lot of time alone and, as a result, found some emotional distance between themselves and their parents.
_Even in an amicable split, divorce makes children grow up between the two distinct worlds of their parents, who often have different values and priorities.
_Children internalize the conflict between these two worlds. They say they feel they have to grow up too soon, act like different people around their parents and keep secrets to preserve the peace.
“Too many people have unrealistic ideas about divorce,” Marquardt said. “They think if you do it right, it won’t be so hard on the kids. And that’s where this `good divorce’ idea is so damaging and so seductive, because it basically tells parents a lie.
“Even for those of us who end up quote-unquote successful,” Marquardt said, “divorce shapes the identities of young people for a lifetime in ways that we haven’t noticed or haven’t talked about before – mainly because all the research has been done by people who did not themselves experience divorce as children.”
The researchers to whom Marquardt alludes are Judith Wallerstein and E. Mavis Hetherington. Wallerstein’s 2000 book, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce” – criticized by some for a small survey sample – said children are definitely harmed by divorce.
Two years later, Hetherington’s book “For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered,” which was based on extensive regional research, said divorce doesn’t leave the majority of children with lasting damage.
Though Wallerstein wrote a foreword for “Between Two Worlds,” Marquardt hopes her book about divorce’s subtler effects can avoid the point-counterpoint salvos of the earlier skirmish.
“For a long time,” Marquardt said, “people have been arguing about how many children of divorce end up with serious delinquency or teen pregnancy or depression. What I do in this book is go to a whole new level. And it’s told from the perspective of the young adults who are affected by divorce. It’s not just `divorce sucks-divorce is fine-divorce sucks’ – that whole endless debate we’ve been in for 10 or 20 years.”
Marquardt agrees that, sometimes, a divorce is necessary, as in cases of domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism or infidelity. But two-thirds of marriages that end in divorce are simply low-conflict relationships in which people drift apart.
“Divorce needs to happen sometimes, but it’s always a tragedy,” she said. “A healthy marriage is an incredible gift to give to your children, and it’s possible for almost all of us.”
Marquardt’s message appears to be resonating with people. National magazines have interviewed her, and she recently answered questions from “Today” co-host Matt Lauer.
Closer to home, therapists who work in the trenches with children and adults in the midst of divorce have a grass-roots view of the study.
Karen Grais Meyer, a Highland Park therapist who has been deeply involved in divorce issues since 1983 and is a child-custody evaluator, called the book “compelling” but added that she has mixed feelings about it.
“I believe that children of divorce do have some additional challenges growing up than children of intact families,” she said. “Parents don’t always pay the same amount of attention to as many details of the child’s life as they did when the parents are living together.”
Meyer said she has seen many couples give up on their marriages too easily. Yet Meyer said Marquardt’s own story, and many of the anecdotes from low-conflict divorces in the book, don’t come across as the “good divorces” the author has labeled them.
“In good divorces, the parents almost always communicate on a daily basis,” she said. “The parents live fairly close together, and the details of the children’s lives are really being attended to.”
Meyer also says parents and society are more sensitive to the effects of divorce on their children than they were in the `70s and `80s.
“In the `80s, I tried to get children-of-divorce groups going in schools. I had schools telling me, `We don’t have any children of divorce here,’” she said.
David Royko, psychologist and director of the Cook County Circuit Court’s marriage and family counseling service, said he’s all for anything that gets parents to stay vigilant after the papers are signed.
“Parents have to continue to do a better job in terms of cooperating,” said Royko, author of “Voices of Children of Divorce.” “Even if they’ve finished working through the divorce emotionally, this is something their kids are going to be reacting to and being affected by indefinitely.”
Though he has praise for “Between Two Worlds,” Royko said making a dent in the U.S. divorce rate, still around 50 percent, is more likely to come from “people making better decisions about who they marry in the first place.”
Marquardt said she hopes adult children of divorce come away from her book realizing, “It’s not just me. I’m not alone.” She also hopes it will persuade couples who have a case of the blahs to try harder to rekindle their relationship.
Marquardt’s parents married and divorced twice, but she said she is close to both of them.
“I don’t blame my parents, because they were young; we’ve all made mistakes,” she said. “But my parents were not able to give me something. And it thrills me every day to see my kids in a secure little world. They have one home and one family and they take it completely for granted. They have no idea life could be any different.
“I don’t feel proud of that, like I’ve accomplished something. I’m just grateful because I know a zillion things could tear it apart – not just divorce but all kinds of things – and I’m grateful for where we are.”
KIDS LOOK FINE ON THE OUTSIDE BUT HAVE PAIN ON THE INSIDE
Is there any such thing as a good divorce? Researcher and author Elizabeth Marquardt says her new survey shows that even a so-called “good divorce” has serious ramifications for kids.
In what she calls “the first-ever national study of children of divorce,” the Gen Xers who are now beginning to have their own children say their lives were much more troubled compared with kids from intact families, even if it looked as though they were doing fine on the outside.
Marquardt, a child of divorce herself, presents the findings in “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.” She said divorce often is necessary in certain situations_like abuse, alcoholism or infidelity. But two out of three U.S. divorces stem from low-conflict marriages, and she hopes her research will persuade couples to exhaust every other option before giving up.
The stats from her study:
_Twice as many children of divorce say they felt like a different person with each of their parents (43 percent versus 21 percent).
_More than three times as many agreed with the statement: “I was alone a lot as a child.” Seven times as many “strongly agreed.”
_Two-thirds of kids from intact families went to a parent when they needed comfort. Only one-third of children of divorce did the same; they were more likely to turn to friends or siblings.
_Sixty-four percent say life was stressful in their family, compared with 25 percent for intact families.
_Three times as many say they love their mother but don’t respect her. Four times as many say they love their father but don’t respect him.
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