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The following are some of the results about parenting and children in divorce from the most comprehensive study of divorce in America, FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE: DIVORCE RECONSIDERED by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002)

  • Children are resilient; two years after divorce, most boys and girls are beginning to function reasonably well again. Happily, the tendency to “self-righting” is strong in the young.
  • Parenting skills decline in the first year after a divorce but begin to revive in the second and third years.
  • Custodial fathers are often better at control; custodial mothers are better at communication and nurturance.
  • If parenting is loving, firm, and consistent, and conflict between divorced parents is low, children can thrive in a mother, father, or joint custody situation.
  • Divorce does not inevitably produce permanent scars. Parents can buffer a child against many of the stresses associated with both divorce and life in a single-parent home.
  • You don’t have to be a perfect parent to be a good buffer. Naturally self-correcting, children can adjust to divorce with a moderate amount of support.
  • Parental love is not enough; firm but responsive discipline is also important to a child of divorce. It teaches the child self-control and how to control his or her emotions.
  • By the time /the children in our study/ were fifteen, the average distance fathers lived from their children was four hundred miles.
  • To buffer, the school has to make a youngster feel cared for, the teachers have to be open and willing to listen; and the discipline policy has to be loving but firm.
  • Be consistent. It’s hard to overstate the importance of a predictable environment after divorce. With so many things changing in children’s lives, they need to know there are some things that can be relied on.
  • Remember, your child is a child. Don’t confide in her or lean on her for support she is incapable of giving. Solve your own problems; the child has enough problems of her own.
  • It is difficult for a non-residential parent to protect a child from the consequences of a hostile, rejecting, or neglecting residential parent. Non-residential parents just aren’t around enough to buffer the child in the day-to-day hassles of family living.
  • Think about cooperative co-parenting; it is a major protective factor for children, and by working together, parents lighten the burden for each other.
  • Although children from divorced and remarried families are more likely than those in non-divorced families to have problems, the vast majority are adjusting reasonably well six years after divorce.
  • Children …need parental guidance and advice in adolescence, but to be in a position to provide both, a parent has to be respected and to have a long history of engaged parenting. A history of firm discipline, caring, and nurturing imbues parental “no’s” with the moral force that even an increasingly independent-minded, peer-influenced teen will heed.
  • Sensitive, engaged, dependable parents build up a large emotional bank account that they can draw on in adolescence, while parents with a history of disengagement and undependability usually go into overdraft as soon as the child becomes a teenager.
  • The more marital and divorce transitions a child experiences, the more emotionally and psychologically fragile the child becomes.
  • Sexual discretion is advised for all parents, but particularly for single mothers. An adult has a perfect right to an adult sex life, but most parental teaching, including teaching about sex, is done via role modeling. An overtly sexual parent predisposes a child to early sexual initiation. The child heeds what the parent does, not what she says.
  • Adult mentors often play a valuable role in a child’s life, especially for children with a difficult home situation. They can make a child feel worthy and valued, and can serve as confidents, advisers, role models, and surrogate parents.
  • A structured, supportive, authoritative school can help to protect against the adverse effects of non-authoritative parents often found in divorced and remarried families. Choose your child’s school with care and stay involved with teachers and school activities.
  • The big headline in my data is that 80 percent of children from divorced homes eventually are able to adapt to their new life and become reasonably well adjusted.
  • The roots of marital instability, what the American psychologist John Gottman calls marriage’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – hostile criticism, contempt, denial, and withdrawal – seem to run across generations and to undermine marriages for young people from divorced and non-divorced families alike… For our youths in the 1990, as with their parents in the 1970s, we found that male withdrawal and denial, two of Dr. Gottman’s Horsemen, are particularly likely to drive a woman out of a marriage; while criticism, contempt, and reciprocated aggression – counterattacking when attacked – act like marital Mace on a man.
  • Ultimately, coping with marital transitions is an active, not a passive process for adults and children. It is not just the availability of resources but how people seek them out and use them and how stresses are dealt with that determine a win, lose, or draw after divorce and remarriage.
  • Divorce should not be undertaken lightly; it is a high-risk situation. Every effort should be made to sustain marriages with some strengths and satisfactions, or marriages going through perturbations because of temporary stresses such as the birth of a difficult child, a job loss, or a casual affair. But divorce is a reasonable solution to an unhappy, acrimonious, destructive marital relationship. The current narrow focus in the media and some of the clinical literature on the hazards of divorce and remarriage, and problems in children whose parents have gone through marital transitions, is a disservice to the majority of those individuals who, often with heroic effort, are leading constructive lives. It isn’t a matter of whether the glass is half empty or half full. In the long run, after a divorce, the glass is three-quarters full of reasonably happy and competent adults and children, who have been resilient in coping with the challenges of divorce.
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