Elizabeth Marquardt – A Child of Divorce Speaking Out

by Carolyn on July 26, 2009

between two worlds

by Elizabeth Marquardt

I found an article today.  It was written in 2005 by Elizabeth Marquardt and was published in the Chicago Tribune on November 6th. While reading it, I was nearly stunned.  Because she was writing about me!  It was almost like she had come here to this site and read all of my posts (which of course is impossible; this site is only six weeks old).  If you are interested in reading it, here is the link:

A ‘Good’ Divorce?  No

Then I saw that the author has also written a book entitled Between Two Worlds, The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce

I was enthralled with the summary of the book too.  If you would like to see it, here is the link.  What is so exciting for me is that her book is based on actual research that reflects exactly what I’ve been writing about.  That how I have felt and still feel is in fact common for us children of divorce.  I love that I will be able to reference this research here too.

I’m going to get my hands on her book.  I’ll read it and then post more formal book review here.  I’m hoping it won’t disappoint but I’ll be sure to let you know if it does.

A ‘Good’ Divorce? No

By Elizabeth Marquardt, November 6, 2005
In recent decades our nation’s divorce rate has skyrocketed. Today, almost one in two marriages ends in divorce, and fully one-quarter of adults age 18 to 35 have grown up in divorced families. Many studies have shown that the children of divorce are anywhere from two to three times more likely to end up with serious, long-term damage–tragic problems like addiction, delinquency, school failure or mental illness.

Despite these distressing findings, many experts say the majority of children of divorce do not end up with disabling problems. Instead, they say the biggest problem with divorce lies with parents who can’t stop battling after the divorce papers are signed. If parents will divorce amicably and each stay involved in their child’s life–if they can achieve what many call a “good” divorce–then the experts say their child will be fine.

There’s only one problem: The idea of the “good” divorce is a myth. It does not describe children’s reality.

In the first national study of the inner lives of children of divorce, which I conducted with sociologist Norval Glenn at the University of Texas at Austin, we found that the grown children of divorce say there’s no such thing as a “good” divorce. This nationally representative telephone survey of 1,500 young adults, half from divorced families and half from intact families–supplemented with more than 70 in-person interviews conducted across the country, including in Chicago–reveals that any kind of divorce, amicable or not, sows lasting inner conflict in children’s lives.

Using hard data and a control group of young people from intact families, we discovered that divorce causes deep and lasting struggles for children even when they manage to survive it and look “fine.” In many ways the children of “good” divorces fare worse than those from unhappy marriages (so long as that unhappy marriage is low conflict, as are most that end in divorce).

Only one-fifth of the grown children of divorce say their parents had “a lot” of conflict after the divorce. But they also say that the conflict between their parents’ worlds did not go away just because their parents did not fight. Instead, after a divorce the tough job of making sense of the parents’ different worlds–that is, trying to resolve their parents’ often radically different beliefs, values and ways of living–becomes the child’s job alone.

As a result, many grown children of divorce say they felt divided inside. Compared to their peers with married parents, they are twice as likely to say that, growing up, they felt like a different person with each of their parents.

Most startling, two-thirds said their divorced parents seemed like polar opposites, compared to one-third of those with married parents, even though few said their divorced parents conflicted a lot. When their parents did have conflicts, those with married parents were very confident their parents would “get over it”–three times more so. For the children of divorce, it is clear that something about the divorce itself makes their parents’ worlds seem locked in lasting conflict, even when the parents do not fight.

Divorce hands children of any age the huge task of making sense, alone, of their parents’ two very different worlds. Maybe they are 4 years old, or 8, or 12. How do they do it?

The grown children of divorce use words like “chameleon” or “actor” to explain how they traveled between two worlds, and how they felt divided inside.

One young woman, a university professor in Chicago, said, “Children of divorce are the biggest chameleons on the planet. You are forced by your circumstances to be everything to all people. I see that also in my friend who is a child of divorce. You put us in a circumstance and we can mirror the behavior of a person that we’re with and make them think we’re similar. Because we did that as children.”

The job of traveling between two worlds, struggling alone to make sense of them, is a lonely one. Grown children of divorce are three times more likely to agree, “I was alone a lot as a child,” and seven times more likely to strongly agree with that sentiment.

Some divorces need to happen. With abuse, violence, chronic addictions or serial adultery, divorce is often the only answer. But two-thirds of divorces today end low-conflict marriages. Too many parents are misled by the idea of a “good” divorce. They think that if they divorce the right way, they can end their good enough marriage and their child will be unscarred.

What do the grown children of divorce want for their children? More than anything, they want them to feel whole. The Chicago university professor shared her dream for her daughter: “I just want her to be a kid. I don’t want her to feel responsible for me or my husband.”

For too long the divorce debate has been dominated by the parents’ point of view, with one group charging that divorce is too rampant, and the other retorting that divorce is a right no one can question. But there’s a new generation speaking up now: the many young adults who grew up with divorce. This is what they say: Sure, sometimes–only sometimes–divorce is necessary. When divorce happens, of course it’s better for children if their parents try to get along. But while a “good” divorce is better than a bad divorce, it’s never good.

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy July 27, 2009 at 11:35 am

That is pretty much exactly what you worte about. Now if only those angry parents from the other site would read this and think of it from their children point of view for a moment. Hopefully they would realize what their children really want and need from them.


2 Carolyn July 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm

Thanks Tammy! I’m just glad that now when someone asks if I can cite research to back up what I’m writing, I have somewhere to point. And it’s also nice to know that I’m in good company with my feelings here too. :)


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