Views on di­vorce di­vorced from re­al­ity

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The di­vorce rate in China has soared in re­cent years, with the So­cial Ser­vice De­vel­op­ment Sta­tis­ti­cal Bul­letin of the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs say­ing that the growth in di­vorce rate ex­ceeded the growth in mar­riage rate for first time last year. Though the ris­ing di­vorce rate has many so­cial im­pli­ca­tions, many people be­lieve it is most harm­ful for di­vorced par­ents’ chil­dren.

The ris­ing num­ber of un­mar­ried moth­ers and soar­ing di­vorce rate in theUnited States in the mid1970s ne­ces­si­tated in-depth stud­ies on di­vorce and sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies. Di­vorce stud­ies since 1980s show that chil­dren of di­vorced par­ents are more likely to de­velop emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems, and end up as di­vorcees them­selves. ButUS psy­chol­o­gist Ju­dithHar­ris ar­gues in a 1995 study that genes might have a role to play in the fail­ure of mar­riages of sin­gle par­ents’ chil­dren.

In their 1992 ge­netic study, M. McGue andD.T. Lykken found that the fail­ure of mar­riages has much to do with ge­netic fac­tors. Per­son­al­ity traits such as tem­per­a­ment and dis­agree­able­ness, com­bined with those that could un­der­mine an in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship such as al­co­holism, play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the fail­ure of a mar­riage.

Cou­ples with such ge­netic char­ac­ter­is­tics or per­son­al­ity “dis­or­ders” are more likely to end up in di­vorce. And chil­dren of such cou­ples could de­velop be­hav­ioral prob­lems be­fore their par­ents’ di­vorce be­cause of ge­netic fac­tors. In­versely, chil­dren’s be­hav­ioral prob­lems can be a cause of spousal rift, which could ag­gra­vate and lead to di­vorce.

It’s true that many chil­dren whose par­ents are di­vorced de­velop be­hav­ioral prob­lems. But stud­ies have shown that the be­hav­ioral prob­lems could be the re­sult of shift­ing house and/or eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties that a sin­gle par­ent (of­ten mother) faces af­ter di­vorce. Ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted in the 1990s, more than half of the sin­gle moth­ers’ in­come de­clined and eco­nomic bur­den in­creased af­ter di­vorce. The sit­u­a­tion has not changed much to­day.

Shift­ing to an­other house af­ter its par­ents’ di­vorce could harm a child’s nor­mal de­vel­op­ment. Peer groups play a key role in a child’s de­vel­op­ment and the sep­a­ra­tion from friends and rel­a­tives when it shifts house has a huge im­pact on its mind. Chil­dren, es­pe­cially boys, find it dif­fi­cult, even im­pos­si­ble, to join new­peer groups. Stud­ies show that many boys can­not bear the emo­tional pres­sure of be­ing crowded out by a new­peer group af­ter mov­ing house.

More­over, even if chil­dren don’t move to an­other house af­ter their par­ents’ di­vorce, their sta­tus in peer groups changes be­cause of a drop in their fam­i­lies’ in­come— this ap­plies es­pe­cially to girls.

Stud­ies have not ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity that the be­hav­ioral prob­lems as­cribed to such chil­dren could be sub­jec­tive ob­ser­va­tions, be­cause such com­plaints gen­er­ally come from par­ents.

Devel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy fo­cuses more on the cor­re­la­tion among dif­fer­ent fac­tors, es­pe­cially the in­flu­ence of the en­vi­ron­ment on genes. Since the work­ing of genes at the bi­o­log­i­cal level could be in­flu­enced by a per­son’s ac­quired knowl­edge, an in­creas­ing num­ber of psy­chol­o­gists to­day em­pha­size that poor eco­nomic con­di­tions of sin­gle par­ents could in­flu­ence the de­vel­op­ment of their child. That’s why manyWestern coun­tries have set up pro­grams to sup­port sin­gle par­ents, es­pe­cially fi­nan­cially, to raise their chil­dren.

In theUnited King­dom, child main­te­nance is de­fined as “usu­ally money that the par­ent with­out the main day-to-day care of a child pays to the other par­ent”, and pub­lic ser­vice web­sites have sup­port guide­lines for sin­gle par­ents. Be­sides, theUKgovern­ment launched a child rais­ing ser­vice last year to sup­port sin­gle moth­ers.

In China, dis­cus­sions on sin­gle par­ents — and how to help them raise their chil­dren — have al­ways been one-sided, with most ex­perts say­ing a child raised by a sin­gle par­ent (es­pe­cially mother) is bound to suf­fer from emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems, with­out even re­flect­ing on the im­por­tance of fi­nan­cial con­straints for such fam­i­lies.

Chil­dren of di­vorced par­ents do de­velop emo­tional and be­hav­ioral prob­lems while grow­ing up, but their prob­lems can­not be blamed on di­vorce alone. To re­ally un­der­stand and solve the prob­lems that di­vorcees’ chil­dren face or de­velop, people have to aban­don their be­lief that par­ents’ di­vorce nec­es­sar­ily harms a child’s de­vel­op­ment, stop blam­ing sin­gle par­ents (es­pe­cially sin­gle moth­ers) for all the ills of their chil­dren, and urge the govern­ment and so­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions to set up pro­grams to sup­port the ris­ing num­ber of sin­gle par­ents. The au­thor is a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­sul­tant and writer.

PANG LI / CHINA DAILY

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