Provoke interest and discussions among readers in your
community with the help of Maggie Gallagher, whose column
offers baby boomers a fresh, conservative voice. She tackles
hot topics ranging from same-gender marriage and abortion
rights to ebonics and cloning. Her powerful writing brings
a fresh personality to opinion pages across the country.
is a striking moment in our cultural history. The cover
of Time magazine asks "Should unhappy parents stay
hitched?" and inside, citing the latest installment
of Dr. Judith Wallerstein's 25-year study of children
of divorce, suggests for the most part, yes.
America this is a shocking, radical, minority view. Just
33 percent of Americans in the latest Time/CNN poll say
parents with kids should stay together "even if the
marriage is not working" (that's up from 21 percent
in 1981), even though 64 percent of Americans agree that
divorce either "almost always" or "frequently"
the Institute for American Values' annual symposium held
this week in New York City, Judith Wallerstein talked
about the findings released in her new book, "The
Unexpected Legacy of Divorce," and confronted some
old criticism of her work.
bottom line? "The impact of divorce is cumulative,
crescendoing in adulthood," reports Dr. Wallerstein,
and "The trauma of breakup is less influential than
the many years in the divorced and remarried family."
young, most children of divorce were badly frightened,
desperately wanted their parents to stay together, experienced
the loss not only of strong relationships with their fathers,
but typically the loss of their overwhelmed and needy
mothers as well. In general, the needs of the parents
after the divorce -- for work, for a social life -- were
"out of sync" with the demands of parenting.
"It requires heroic efforts to sustain parenting"
under these conditions, notes Dr. Wallerstein compassionately,
"and not everyone is a hero."
children of divorce grew older and considered love and
marriage, their parents' divorce remained a vivid obstacle
to be overcome. "I have the fear that any family
I get involved with will dissolve," one child of
divorce told her. Many more of the daughters of divorce
became unwed or single mothers. The response of the divorce
success stories -- adults who navigated their way to a
good marriage, children and a satisfying work life --
was perhaps the most telling. They do not tell us, for
the most part, "Hey, divorce is not so bad. After
all I'm doing OK." Instead, over and over they told
Dr. Wallerstein adamantly, "No child of mine is going
to have the childhood I had."
contrast, parents in deeply disappointing but intact marriages
were much more able to maintain higher-quality parenting,
and the children benefited from a greater sense of protection
and better relationships with both mothers and fathers.
"Open conflict often only arises for the first time
in the opening scenes of a dying marriage," says
Wallerstein. Children of intact marriages viewed success
in marriage and children more as a matter of course. They
do not view each quarrel as a prelude to abandonment and
helplessness. As one woman put it to her husband early
in the marriage, "Look, if my folks could do it,
so can we." Men typically drew closer to their fathers
in adulthood, cherished their new relationships with extended
family, and were more willing to support their aging fathers
financially and emotionally. Divorce, by contrast, disrupts
not only the parental generation's relationships, but
relationships between the generations.
Wallerstein's work has been criticized for not being nationally
representative. As University of Chicago Professor Linda
Waite, one of the nation's foremost sociologists and demographers,
pointed out at this symposium, "Expecting this kind
of in-depth psychological work to be conducted the way
demographers do national surveys is irrational and unscientific."
Dr. Wallerstein's results are shocking precisely because
her sample is not an average sample: It represents a group
of highly advantaged kids -- mostly white, middle-class
with well-educated and affluent parents, who were developmentally
and psychologically in good shape before the divorce.
To find such lasting consequences under the best of conditions
is truly shocking.
she started her work in the early '70s, the conventional
wisdom was that "if parents were unhappy, so must
children be." This, says Wallerstein flatly, is "simply
untrue." Many children were quite content in an emotionally
disappointing marriage. "We have conflated children's
needs with the wishes of adults, and it works," as
Wallerstein says with such devastating clarity, only "so
long as we avoid talking to children."