At last, in this weekend’s SMH, there was a report on research showing the bleeding obvious – that children are hurt by their parents’ divorce!! At one level, it seems ludicrous that Paul Amato, Professor of Sociology at Pennsylvania State University, should even bother to do the research, because how can it not hurt children? But for twenty or more years, professionals working with couples have espoused the idea of the “good divorce”, and tried to make it okay for parents to split up.
Amato and his colleagues have shown, though, that even the best-intentioned divorced couple, who remain good friends, share the parenting and smile at each other as they do hand-over, produce children who do less well on a range of psychological measures than those parents who stay together. Of course, that is looking at a large group of children – there is no doubt that there are many individual cases of children from divorced parents doing better even than those children whose parents stay together. It clearly is not just parental marital status that contributes to a child’s self-esteem, or satisfaction with life and school. And it is not merely those measures that determine whether a child will experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll. But Amato’s study contributes to our understanding of the value of working on an unsatisfactory marriage, especially when there are children involved.
Amato’s study makes it a little harder for parents to walk away from a marriage because they are feeling unfulfilled. It does not suggest that being a parent means that you have to tolerate abuse or neglect. A parent’s needs must be able to be met within a marriage before anyone should insist that they stay. The point is that with this extra information, parents may decide to WORK ON the marriage for the children’s sake. And this is quite different from the 20th century idea that one STAYS IN the marriage for the sake of the children. Now, in the 21st century, it is incumbent on parents to ensure that their marriage is one of quality, and that no-one suffers by its existence.
Which of course brings me to the solution: don’t be scared of investing in quality advice and support for your marriage, from premarital counseling, to interventions and support at times of crisis, to pre-parenting classes, parenting support and help in dealing with the challenges life throws up. Although this may entail some financial outlay, it will be less than you will lose in divorce proceedings – and the value you can add to your life can not necessarily even be measured in monetary terms.
Remember, intervene early and prevent big problems from snaring you. Talk to a skilled psychologist who takes a whole of life view and can assist you in developing a positive focus and an increased joy in living.