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by Elizabeth Marquardt
Three Rivers Press, 2006
Review by Kevin Purday on Jun 12th 2007
This is a moving and somewhat upsetting book based on research undertaken jointly by the author and Professor Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin. The two of them pioneered a national study of the effects of divorce by conducting a survey of one thousand five hundred young adults equally divided between those from divorced and those from intact families. This was followed up with in-depth interviews with more than seventy of them. The results were disturbing.
The author, whose parents divorced when she was quite young, sets out to counter the 'Happy Divorce' rhetoric which states that so long as parents divorce in an amicable way, make positive provision for the children to spend quality time with both parents after the divorce, do not speak badly of one another in front of the children, etc. then the children will be affected by the divorce to a surprisingly small degree. The rhetoric also states that divorce is preferable to the situation where the children are exposed to constant low level bickering and arguments. This book argues that, on the contrary, children of divorced parents are profoundly affected by the experience and would often suffer far less by being in a home where both parents are together but experiencing low level disagreements. The authors agree that where there is a very high level of disagreement and possibly violence then divorce is perhaps a better option but the children will still suffer.
The thrust of the argument, reflected in the book's title, is that children of divorced parents are made to live in two entirely separate worlds, often with different step-families and always with different outlooks, values and lifestyles. This not only has a stressful effect on the children but also has a much more profound psychological impact. This can be summarized as a struggle to form a coherent and unified view of the world along with an integrated set of values. The authors argue that the split worlds of divorced parents make it difficult, although not impossible, for children to form a world view and to create a cohesive system of values because of the divergent views foisted on them by their divorced parents. This is strong stuff. The survey data, meticulously reproduced in appendices at the end of the book, certainly seem to support the authors' contentions. The well-known statistical fact that children of divorced parents are much more likely themselves to divorce also seems to support their contention as does the fact that people who have undergone divorce once are more likely to divorce again than those who have never divorced at all. For the reviewer whose mother was twice divorced and who is himself divorced this was all very unsettling.
The book does not make it its aim to unravel the reasons why this is the case. There is an underlying argument that a lack of strong religious ties is a contributory factor. However, some religions are very accepting of divorce so the religious argument is referring mainly to certain forms of Christianity. The authors do not set out to probe into the sociological changes which have made divorce more likely. Perhaps this could be done in a follow-up book. There is obviously a lot of truth in the authors' argument but this reviewer feels that the ramifications need to be investigated.
This book is well-written and well-researched within its pre-set parameters. It has a good index and excellent endnotes which incorporate a bibliography. For those interested in the effects of divorce it is a 'must read.'
© 2007 Kevin M. Purday
Kevin Purday is a consultant in international education working mainly in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His main focus is on helping schools to set up the International Baccalaureate Middle Years and Diploma Programs. He has taught both philosophy and psychology in the I.B. diploma program.