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The Psychological Impact of having Separated or Divorced Parents

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The Psychological Impact of Coming from Divorced Parents 

Imagine a child that is used to having both parents around, present, and living within the same household. The child loves having both parents there and is happy that they are all together, one big family. Then one day, one parent decides to leave. No matter how much the child's parents try to explain why leaving is best for the entire family, the child doesn't understand. The ghostly presence of that parent around the house lingers and plays on the deepest fear and insecurities. Suddenly, the child is saying goodbye to their old routine and saying hello to a new one. A change that is confusing and scary and leaves the child feeling helpless. The child has to get used to a new home, a home with one parent, or possibly two homes where they now have two belongings, or maybe a new life without the other parent at all. How does that child learn to cope with such change? How does this impact the child as it grows into an adult and is faced with its own intimate relationships? It can be a shock to children who were born into the world with both parents originally around, then to suddenly experience the absence of one of their caretakers in their day-to-day life. According to Dr. Gorden S. Livingston, the idea of parents splitting is the fulfillment of a child's deepest fears. They don't have the ego strength to make sense of it, integrate it, or put any words around it (Francke, 6). Today, we are going to dive into the psychological impact of heterosexual divorce and separation on children and how it can travel into adulthood. For if we wish to heal, it's important to look at the very beginning. The patterns that we repeat as adults stem from childhood. The trauma we weren't able to understand as children freeze until we are mentally and emotionally capable of handling it. If you or someone you know have come from a household like this, you may feel that you have come to terms with it and moved past it. However, if you see common self-limiting patterns in how you communicate, negotiate, compromise, or deal with conflict. If you seem to be attracting a similar archetype over and over again among different people. If your relationships are tumultuous and you're searching for answers to why it would be beneficial to take a deeper look at your inner child. The child who dealt with the adversity of a fractured home. 


The statistics and research offered in this article are specifically geared toward the psychological impact of heterosexuality.


It's important to note that the divorce rate of marriages within the United States is about 40%-50%, give or take, depending on the year. That would mean that approximately half of us were born from parents that didn't stay together. The psychological impact of a parent's separation could be seen drastically if it happened during childhood. The ramifications of the separation can ripple into adulthood. According to current stats completed by Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, divorce law specialists, if you came from a home with happily married parents, your risk of divorce decreased by 14%. Children of divorce are 50% more likely to marry another child of divorce, and unfortunately, the risk of divorce is 50% percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home and 200 percent higher when both partners do. This means that if you come from a home of separation or divorce, you're more likely to repeat the pattern of your parents. They say our pain has intelligence. It's fascinating that our pain received as a child from the separation of our parents would then attract the pain of another partner who has experienced the same, only to manifest exactly that same experience we suffered as children. This is a coercive cycle. A cycle that can be treated with care and possibly stopped by increasing awareness and consciously choosing not to repeat these patterns. We do this by taking a look backward. 


There are similarities in the psychological impact of separated parents on both young girls and boys. However, there are particular differences. Within separated parents, women are granted legal custody in 83% of the cases. This means that the mother becomes the main caretaker, which then creates difficulty for the father to be in the child's life. This may not be the case for all, but certainly the majority. The inconsistent presence or consistent absence of the father has a large impact on both young boys and girls. There isn't one answer to encompass all human behavior. However, the impact of whether a father stayed consistently in your life or another's a significant variable that can change how much difficulty you went through with the separation and divorce.  


How does separation or divorce impact young girls?


 In young girls once the divorce has occurred, 10% of young girls have reported a decreased desire to perform well in school. If a young girl's parents have divorced or remarried, they are more likely to begin their period early and start physically maturing into a woman. Due to the mothers needing more emotional support and someone to lean on, the young girl matures at a faster rate. In some cases, the mother turns to the daughter as a friend or sister to whom they can say anything, including loneliness, financial stress, depression, and relationship issues. Children typically need a parent to teach them and help them. When the roles are reversed, it can lead to a lot of pressure on the child. According to research, little girls whose father isn't around are more likely to have a marriage that ends in divorce. Fathers can help their daughters create boundaries and build confidence when selecting their future partner. If the father is absent at a young age for daughters, it can create an abandonment void, and then the daughter will work to fill this void; she will be hungry for a deep and fulfilling relationship with a male. She may have weaker boundaries when choosing whether or not to let men in or boundaries around how much she will take before leaving the relationship. This wound will attract the same situation over and over again until healed. Therefore the young girl who felt abandoned by a caretaker will attract similar characteristics in her future partners. If the father isn't present often in the young girl's life due to divorce or other circumstances, studies have shown that they'll be more inclined to gain attention sexually as a teen.


 For this reason, it is important for mothers to help young daughters maintain healthy relationships with their fathers. Of course, this is dependent upon the reason behind the divorce. If there was abuse there, then it would be beneficial to keep her away. However, if there wasn't. A little girl needs her father. 


How do separation and divorce impact young boys?


According to work compiled by three researchers, one of them being Dr. E. Mavis Hetherington, a divorce specialist, boys are more handicapped by divorce, as the effects are "long-lasting and intense." The effects of divorce and separation for young boys were seen to outlast the effects seen on young girls. According to Dr. Hetherington, it takes twice as long for boys to recover. However, it is important to note that boys typically act out their behavior, so it's much easier to spot, while girls could bury their feelings under the pressure of being "good little girls," according to Irene Surmik. With boys, divorces have been known to increase bad behavior, such as aggression and fighting. They may lash out, flounder in school, or fail at work. The differences between how girls and boys differ in the impact of divorce or separation lie in their abilities and techniques of expressing themselves. Research shows that divorce impacts young boys' self-esteem and well-being. Boys have been found to become more dependent, whiny, and aggressive after the divorce. Research also shows that not having their father around delay's a young boy's maturity and emotional development. Boys are more likely to suffer from depression when one parent leaves home, especially when they are not able to spend time with the other parent consistently. In different cultures, there is more pressure on the boy to become the leader of the family and to carry on the family name. Therefore, statistically, parents are 18% more likely to stay together if they have a son (Francke, 5). There's not a clear answer to why, but many hypothesize the importance of having the father in the son's life no matter what. Unfortunately, if the parent's relationship is tumultuous, the son is exposed to detrimental relationship patterns and possibly abuse. It's also possible that mothers are more apprehensive about raising a son alone. 


When boys are young, they experience Freud's classic Oedipus conflict, where they compete with their father for the mother's love and attention. If a divorce happens around ages 3 and 8, the son could feel unexplainable guilt, almost as if they have wished their father away. To add to the confusion, the mother could feel lonely and have the young boy sleep with her as a form of comfort, and suddenly the son has achieved what he truly wanted, which is his mother's full attention. However, the mother then begins to venture out to find another male partner. The son could feel as if he isn't enough. When the mother's new relationship advances, the partner begins sleeping over. The son could feel that he has been replaced, and not with his original father, but with a complete stranger.


When a mother is left to raise a son, the son can become confused about the roles of the mother as she takes on the masculine and feminine roles, essentially becoming the father and the mother, especially if the father is often absent. This leaves a son feeling confused about the behavior they should be doing to support their mother or what behavior is now acceptable. They may take on more responsibility than they are the least bit ready for, thus becoming the man of the family quite early. The mother, with the pressure of being the sole parent, could become overprotective and stop their son from doing things that a father would allow, such as climbing trees, riding a bike down a hill, or playing football. Thus, the boy isn't able to express his masculine energy as a child without fear. This may backfire when they become adults. Due to the suppression of their masculine energy and lack of guidance around it, they may become hyper-masculine due to them having to bottle it up for many years or the insecurity around not understanding how to control it. 

Similarly to young girls not knowing how to relate to a man, the boys may not learn how to become one. 

For teenagers of divorce and separation, young women may be prone to promiscuous and sexual behavior; there's an opposite effect on boys, who become sexually insecure and threatened. Both may experience an increase in drug and alcohol usage, as well as shame, condemnation, and resentment over their parent's actions. 

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