Yesterday, I commented on psychologist Ruth Bettelheim’s take on child custody and support reform and how Ohio measures up. What I didn’t emphasize was her challenge to the notion that divorce per se damages kids.
The idea that ending a marriage is automatically ‘destroying the family’ is a familiar one. But the fact is that many families endure quite well despite divorce. Mom remains Mom and Dad remains Dad, even if they are no longer married and do not live in the same residence.
Bettelheim –and others such as E. M. Hetherington– argue that most adult children from divorced parents ‘are no worse off than their peers whose parents remained married.’ In fact, Bettelheim proposes that children of divorce are often more ‘resilient, self-reliant, adaptable and independent’ adults.
But there’s a big qualifier here: high-conflict divorce, and the stress generated from it, does wreak lasting damage on children. That’s why it’s called toxic stress.
The point is inescapable: do not let the idea that one parent or the other is destroying the family become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If one or both parents allow themselves to slip into recrimination and escalating levels of conflict, the family –and kids’ lives– can very well be destroyed.
Divorce assures neither family destruction nor family bliss. Like marriage, divorce is what you make it. So the key to coming out on the positive side for kids is to continue to function as a family, that is,
- keep the relationship between parents cordial and well intentioned
- approach parenting in a unified, cooperative manner
- keep the children insulated from involvement in any conflict between parents.
You don’t have to be married or living together in one household to do that.
Thomas McCormack has practiced law in Northeast Ohio for more than 30 years, seven of them as a domestic relations trial magistrate. His practice is dedicated to family law and divorce with a special interest in children’s issues.
For more information about divorce or to find a family lawyer in your neighborhood, visit the Rocket Lawyer Divorce Legal Center.