Between Two Worlds
The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce
by Elizabeth Marquardt
Crown Publishers / New York (2005)
Reviewed by Bob Schultz, January 12, 2006
When most people get married, they believe it is, “until death do us part” as stated in their marriage vows. But, in the United States, almost one in two marriages ends in divorce.
Nevertheless, in spite of both parents and children expecting to have an intact family, approximately one quarter of adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five (71,611,296 people, according to the 2000 US census) have grown up in divorced families.
Ms. Marquardt points out that children expect their parents to be married “forever” and have a difficult time understanding why they are no longer living together after a divorce. It is this fissure in the very foundation of their world that causes so many internal and external problems, some lasting for the rest of their lives. For a child, the result of a divorce is two separate worlds. Either the child will spend time going in and out of those two worlds and experience numerous conflicts and stress, or the child will only spend time in one world (and not spend much, if any, time with the other parent) and experience rejection, numerous conflicts, and stress.
Ms. Marquardt writes about the child who travels between both parents, living for a while with one parent and then living for a time with the other parent, in two very different worlds. Thus, the title for this book, “Between Two Worlds”.
The Marquardt study only surveyed adult children of divorce who were still in touch with both parents. It is estimated that about 40% of children lose touch completely with one parent following divorce. The study also only explores the effects into early adulthood and the effects don't stop there.
The nation's divorce rate reached record levels in the late
1970's and early 1980's, and Norval D. Glenn, a professor of
sociology at the University of Texas, said that about a quarter
of all Americans age 18 to 35 were not yet 16 when they experienced
their parents' divorce.
Each year, about three-quarters of a million American children see their parents divorce.
Elizabeth Marquardt, with sociologist Norval Glenn, conducted a pioneering new national study of children of divorce. One thousand five hundred young adults, from both divorced and intact families (750 Generation X adults of divorced parents with 750 who grew up in intact homes) were interviewed, with over seventy of them being interviewed at length.
This new survey is based on the first nationally representative
sample of young adults.
In the survey, all those from divorced families had experienced their parents' divorce before age 14 and had maintained contact with both parents.
Elizabeth Marquardt is a child of divorced parents. She knows firsthand some of the trauma and challenges presented to children of divorced parents. In addition to her own personal experience, Ms. Marquardt shares much information from this pioneering new study of the children of divorce. Her book contains a lot of statistics, but she makes them more palatable by her presentation of the facts.
While many children of divorce “look fine” on the outside, this national survey exposed the inner confusion and fears kept secret by these same children. The adage, “you can’t always tell a book by its cover” comes to mind here. These children had to take on, by themselves, the almost impossible job of trying to resolve the radically different beliefs, values, and ways of life of each parent once they were divorced.
The results of the survey’s findings are woven together with the stories of young people who were interviewed along with Ms. Marquardt’s own personal reflections on her life as a child of divorce.
The author discusses the idea of the “good divorce” and examines, in depth, that myth as far as the well-being of the children of those families is concerned. She calls the efforts of divorced spouses and professional counselors to put a positive spin on divorces that are not as violent and nasty as others, “happy talk”. Ms. Marquardt states that this “happy talk” about children’s parents splitting up has only caused children to bury their real feelings. Even these more or less amicable divorces result in deep inner conflicts in the lives of the children. Conflicts such as trying to reconcile strikingly different beliefs, values, and lifestyles cause children to lose a degree of stability in their lives when, at such a formative age, they need a clear and concrete moral compass as well as role models showing how to overcome differences in lifestyle and beliefs.
In this national survey, children of divorce were found to have felt like they have a different identity in each of their separated parents new worlds. In addition, they perceive the need to “keep secrets” so as to not hurt the feelings of the other parent or cause a big fight between them. Also, home seems less safe and stable and, as a result, these children are less likely to go to either parent for comfort or emotional support. They learn to “be tough” and “independent” at an age when they should at times be crying on a parent’s shoulder.
Like any child, the children of divorce are curious about God and about spiritual life and faith. They have questions and longings about the invisible things of life: love, faith, forgiveness, and trust. But, because the foundation of their world (the family) has been shattered, their feelings of loss, mistrust, and anger toward their parents greatly complicates their spiritual journeys. Instead of trust and belief in a loving God, they may redirect their anger towards their parent’s divorce to God Himself.
Ms. Marquardt’s message is clear. Life is challenging as are inter-personal relationships. But the benefits of a family finding appropriate resources to successfully address their problems will pay off in benefits, not only for the husband and wife, but for the life of each of their children. But, the cost of not successfully addressing their problems will be disastrous for the husband and wife and catastrophic for their children.