Views on divorce divorced from reality
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.