When divorce rates in the U.S. began to rise in the final decades of the 20th century, there was understandable concern about what impacts this would have on children in divorced households. There’s no question that divorce is tough on the whole family and can be especially tough on children. Researchers across America (including here in Utah) began conducting long-term studies that suggested children of divorce were likely to face social, emotional and academic problems. More recent studies have suggested that children of divorce are more likely to get divorced themselves when they become adults.
In light of this information, many unhappy couples have considered or tried the well-meaning strategy of staying together for the sake of their children. But is this always better than divorce? And might researchers be overlooking other, more salient factors that influence the wellbeing of children?
Conflict levels may be more important than divorce itself
The problem with staying together for the kids is that it doesn’t automatically solve the problems leading couples to contemplate divorce. Wishing for a happy, intact family isn’t enough to make it a reality. And unfortunately, newer research seems to suggest that continued exposure to conflict is often a more reliable predictor of future mental health issues in children than divorce is. Even in cases where couples don’t have loud, animated fights in front of their children, kids – even very young kids – can sense tension and anger, which can cause long-term issues.
In other words, kids are likely worse off living in one high-conflict home with married parents than living in two low-conflict homes with parents who are divorced.
So what should parents be doing if they can’t reconcile and are worried about what divorce will do to their kids? Check back as we continue this discussion in our next post.