I write this article with a great deal of ambivalence as a cautionary tale.
As a child of divorce, a divorced mother of two, and a long-practicing divorce lawyer/therapist, divorce is not exactly something I would advocate for improving a child’s mental health. That said, now that I am well on the other side reflecting back, I can point to at least four ways divorce can benefit (which the dictionary defines as “something that promotes or enhances well-being”) children. Warning: As a 360-degree thinker, for every upside, I also offer a downside.
It has been my experience that many children of divorce tend to be more independent than their counterparts. Whether it is borne of a need to be self-protective, self-motivated, or self-aware, children of divorce often display an admirable streak of independence as the attention of their parents may have been diverted for relatively long periods of time during key child developmental stages. Query whether this impacts the ability of some of these children to form and trust bonds with peers or when they form their own romantic relationships.
2. Emotionally Intelligent
Perhaps because they have had to navigate bifurcated and often discordant households, children of divorce can tend to have extraordinarily high EQ – emotional intelligence, that is, to be more curious, compassionate, sensitive, and insightful than their counterparts as they strive to intuit and make meaning of the changes in their parents’ moods, behaviors, households, and evolving new lives. Query whether this impacts the ability of some of these children to avoid becoming parentified and to risk insufficient self-care.
3. High Achiever
Archetypically, I have seen many children of divorce strive beyond measure to be successful by pushing themselves to the far-flung corners of their young limits in various fields of endeavor (academics, sports, hobbies, and talents). I believe the root of this palpable drive is to please one or both parents – to prove to them that just because their marriage failed, does not mean they are failures as parents. It is also a way for children to signal to their parent(s) that their respective or collective divorce guilt can be assuaged because – at least on the surface – “the kids are alright.” Moreover, spotlighting a child’s success can be a great distractor for warring parents who cannot otherwise agree on the time of day. Query whether the detrimental impact these early high achievers can face may devolve into adult Type A personalities sentenced to chase an unattainable endgame.
In my experience, children of divorce are apt to grow up to be unusually gifted in their ability to be egalitarian in their view of the world and in their dealings with others. Perhaps because of their real-life experiences with shuttle diplomacy between their parents, they have a well-developed normative sense of what is, what can be, or what should be “fair.” Query whether that leaves these children ultimately emotionally vulnerable as they put their own needs aside and try to please others at their own expense.
In sum, during my 35 years of practice, I have been amazed and delighted to see so many divorced parents “get it right” if they are able to see beyond their own narrow interests and truly insist – as the touchstone in their years of co-parenting – what is in the best interests of their children. But, what amazes me even more is the resiliency and survival mechanisms of some children of divorce to rise above the circumstances and choices they likely would not have elected for their families. Concluding that nothing in child development is black and white, I have tried to present a bit of a holistic and realistic view of the conscious or unconscious beneficial journey embarked upon by some children of divorce.
Michele Keratsis says
Terrific article. Ms. Shemin’s wealth of experience offers us a broad perspective.