Since 1960, the divorce rate has varied through the years, increasing considerably from 1960 to 1980, then gradually declining from the early 1980s to 2005, but recently increasing from 2005 to 2007 (Popenoe, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 459). Divorce is a major disruption in the family life-cycling process, adding complexity to whatever developmental tasks the family member is experiencing in its present phase (Peck and Manocherian, 1988, pg. 335). The negative impact of divorce is so strong that children of divorced parents struggle as adults to create a positive, healthy family environment for their own children.
All too often, adults who experienced divorce as children prove less capable of breaking the cycle and instead pass on a legacy of tragedy to their children and their children’s children (Fagan and Rector, 2000, pg. 17). Therefore, divorce does not just impact the individual at the time of the dissolution. Instead, divorce negatively impacts an individual in every stage of life. Infancy Of the stages of development across the lifep, it may appear that infants are the least affected by divorce.
However, while babies may not understand anything about separation or divorce, they do notice changes in their parents’ response to them, which impacts future development. According to psychoanalytic theorist, Erik Erikson, who developed eight stages of human development, the first psychosocial stage experienced in the first year of life is called trust vs. mistrust. Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a good and pleasant place to live (Santrock, 2011, pg. 23).
Therefore, the foundation of all human interactions is trust. The degree to which trust is present will determine the nature and depth, as well as the length of relationships. If children develop basic trust, they progress through the rest of the developmental stages in a healthy way. However, if mistrust is the primary concept developed in infancy (as in a situation of divorce), the subsequent developmental stages are damaged (Rhodes, 2000, pg. 9). Still, Erikson’s trust vs. mistrust is not resolved once and for all in the first year of life.
Children who leave infancy with a sense of trust can still have their sense of mistrust activated at a later stage if their parents are separated or divorced under conflicting circumstances (Santrock, 20011, pg. 187). Additionally, babies experience the distress of the parents and become aware of the changes, and comings and goings of both parents and other caretakers as they form emotional ties. The combination of distressed and/or unavailable parents can create demanding or withdrawn children.
As children approach the age of two, their striving toward independence is closely tied to feeling secure; with the loss of a parent, this security is threatened (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 347). Early Childhood Parents who are struggling with their own sense of failure, anger, guilt, and loss have difficulty providing a stabilizing, consistent environment for their children. This is especially hard for preschoolers who are developmentally starting to move away from home and toward peers and school.
They have the beginnings of a sense of morality, combined with difficulty in distinguishing between their thoughts and reality, and thus are especially vulnerable to guilt and confusion (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 347). They may regress developmentally in a number of ways: separation anxiety, sleep disturbances, bed wetting, clinginess, fear of any leave taking, and aggressive fantasies (Wallerstein & Kelly, as cited by Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 347). Middle & Late Childhood The impact of divorce on children of this age is more profound (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 51). Children six to eight seem to have the hardest time of any age group (Wallerstein and Kelly, as cited by Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 351), as they are old enough to realized what is happening, but do not have adequate skills to deal with the disruption. They often feel a sense of responsibility, experience tremendous grief, and have a pervasive sadness and yearning for the departed parent. At the same time, they experience recurring fantasies of reconciliation and often think that they have the power to make it happen (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 51). Additionally, children of divorced parents have lower grades and other measures of academic achievement, are more likely to be held back, and are more likely to drop out of school (Institute for American Values, 2011, pg. 27). Adolescence Adolescence is a stage filled with many changes, both physical and emotional. It is a time when children are beginning their own process of leaving home and forming an identity separate from their parents. At the threshold of young adulthood, relationships take center stage (Wallerstein, Lewis and Blakeslee, 2000, pg. 32).
However, the divorce of parents make romance and courtship more difficult and tenuous for the adolescence as they reach adulthood, and the effects on dating seem to be the strongest when divorce takes place during the child’s teenage years (Fagan & Rector, 2000). Older teenagers and young adults date more often, have more failed romantic relationships, and experience a more rapid turnover of dating partners. Not surprisingly, this leads to a great number of sexual partners, which in itself creates a grave risk that one will acquire an STD (Fagan & Rector, 2000).
Because of their own unsettled nature, adolescents’ reactions to divorce include anger, a desire for a stable home, and a need for clear boundaries between them and their parents (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 354). For those teenagers who were already having difficulties, divorce creates an added burden, increasing the risk of emotional problems. In addition to the sexual acting out and multiple partners, children at this age may engage in self-destructive behavior, such as truancy, school failure and substance abuse, (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 354). Emerging Adulthood
While the effects on dating seem to be the strongest when the divorce takes place during the child’s teenage years, they also carry over into adulthood (Fagan & Rector, 2000). In a twenty-five year study, Judith Wallerstein (2000) found that the effects of divorce on children crescendo as they enter adulthood. Their relationships with the opposite sex were often impaired by acute fears of betrayal and abandonment, and many also complained that they had never witnessed a man and a woman in a happy relationship and doubted that achieving such a relationship was possible (Wallerstein, Lewis and Blakeslee, 2000, pg. 2). A recent growth of cohabitation flows in part from the loss of confidence that many children of divorce have in marriage. Having witnessed divorce up close, many young adults are afraid that they will not achieve lifelong love and they feel handicapped in their search for love and marriage by their lack of models of a happy relationship between a man and a woman, their lack of knowledge about how to resolve differences, and their expectation of betrayal and abandonment by their partner (Institute for American Values, 2011, pg. 3). In addition, parental divorce increases the odds by 50 percent that adult children who do choose to marry will also divorce; this is partly because children of divorce are more likely to marry prematurely and partly because children of divorce often marry other children of divorce, thereby making their marriage even more unstable and uncertain (Institute for American Values, 2011, pg. 19). Because of increased life expectancy, a growing trend is divorce in families with children being launched (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 56). While divorce in childhood affects the development of emerging adulthood, a parental divorce in emerging adulthood has a profound impact, as well. When children are no longer the major focus of a couple, marriages become vulnerable and a decision is made to divorce. It may be that divorce occurs when parents who have stayed together “for the children” now feel free to end a long and unhappy marriage (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 357).
Despite the fact that they may be out of the parental home, divorce can be very stressful for young adults, with a sense of increased responsibility to their parents and a vulnerability to loyalty conflicts. In addition, young adults may experience a sense of loss of family home, abandonment by parents, and a concern about their own marriage (Ahrons, as cited by Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 356). The biggest risk for the adult child is when the parents “hold on to them” or assume the role of substitute spouse to fill the loneliness.
When the parents are unable to make a meaningful new start, the children may have difficulty moving forward with their own lives (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 357). Middle Adulthood Divorce in middle adulthood may be more negative than divorce in early adulthood (Santrock, 2011, pg. 515). When divorce occurs for the couple in later life, it reverberates like a shock wave throughout the entire family and there may be three generations of family members whose lives will be altered by divorce (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 59). The children’s reactions and perceived responsibilities become key aspects of the divorce-adjustment process during this phase. Each parent may want to become reinvolved with the children in a way that is inappropriate; in a role reversal, children may now feel burdened by their parents (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 359). In addition, the emotional and time commitment to marriage that had existed for so many years may be not lightly given up by one partner (Santrock, 2011, pg. 515).
Many midlife individuals perceive a divorce as failing in the best years of their life. The divorcer might see the situation as an escape from an unsustainable relationship, but the divorced partner usually sees it as a betrayal, or the ending of a relationship that had been built up over many years and that involved a great deal of commitment and trust (Santrock, 2011, pg. 515). An unwanted, unexpected divorce at this stage is traumatic, even when the marriage has been unsatisfactory to each for many years.
Starting over as a single person is very difficult, particularly when there is not a clear sense of identity apart from the roles within the marriage. It is especially hard to find renewed meaning in life at this stage of the lifep (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 359). Additionally, divorce has negative emotional effects on both divorced men and women as they complain of loneliness, diminished self-esteem, anxiety about the unknowns in their lives, and difficulty forming satisfactory new intimate relationships (Hetherington, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 460).
A recent study reveled that following marital dissolution, both men and women were more likely to experience an episode of depression than individuals who remained with a spouse over a two-year period (Rotermann, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 460). Other impacts include the lowering of the economic standing of some middle-aged and older women who have a limited number of options (Mitchell, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 515). Late Adulthood As stated in infancy, Erikson developed eight stages of human development. Individuals experience the eighth stage, integrity versus despair, in late adulthood.
This stage involves reflecting on the past and either piecing together a positive review or concluding that one’s life has not been well spent (Santrock, 2011, pg. 594). A well-adjusted older adult feels acceptance with his life and choices; however, when an individual is embroiled in divorce, he has despair and regret over their marital outcomes, thus not experiencing his full potential at this last stage of development. Additionally, in this stage of life, the divorced individuals’ parents may be dead, and their children and siblings involved with their own lives.
As a result, they may feel very isolated from their usual social network and that their opportunities are limited. If one spouse has been left by the other, he often feels ashamed, humiliated, and as a result may isolate himself from former ties and may not have the energy or desire to form new relationships (Peck & Manocherian, 1988, pg. 360). Furthermore, there are social, financial, and physical consequences of divorce for older adults (Mitchell, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 607). Divorce can weaken kinship ties when it occurs in later life, especially in the case of older men (Cooney, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 07), and divorced older women are less likely to have adequate financial resources than married older women (Santrock, 2011, pg. 607). Divorce is also linked to more health problems in older adults (Lillard & Waite, as cited by Santrock, 2011, pg. 607). Why do individuals who are happily married live longer, healthier lives than divorced individuals? People in happy marriages likely feel less physically stressed, which puts less wear and tear on a person’s body; such wear and tear can lead to numerous physical ailments, such as high blood pressure and hart disease (Waite, as cited by Santrock, 011, pg. 459). Conclusion Divorce has universal ill effects on individuals in all stages of life development. If the family is the building block of society, then marriage is the foundation. However, as fewer adults enter into marriage, more adults leave it in divorce, and more adults begin cohabitating, the foundation of marriage is growing weaker and weaker (Fagan & Rector, 2000, pg. 32). It is best stated by Wallerstein et al. (2000): Divorce is a life-transforming experience. After divorce, childhood is different. Adolescence is different.
Adulthood- with the decision to marry or not and have children or not- is different. Whether the final outcome is god or bad, the whole trajectory of an individual’s life is profoundly altered by the divorce experience. Marriage is not merely a private preference, but also a social and public good. Concerned citizens, as well as scholars, need to be aware of the long-term consequences of divorces happening every day in America and the implications it has on the stages of development across the lifep. References Cherlin, A. J. (2011).
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