Reams and reams of research exist on the long-term effects of divorce on children, and on boys in particular. Some experts seem to believe that divorce and life in a single-parent home permanently damages children, while others claim that children with divorced or separated parents suffer no negative long-term effects. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in between.
The Truth about Divorce
In an ideal world, a boy lives with his mother and his father, experiences a sense of belonging and significance, and learns to be capable and competent as he grows up. (Obviously, even boys with married parents do not always experience this ideal situation!) When parents no longer live together, life for a boy becomes more complicated, but it need not be impossible.
Many people believe that children of divorced parents will never have healthy marriages and relationships themselves. Not true! A University of Michigan study of more than 6,000 adults found that 43 percent of the adult children of divorced parents were happily married—about the same percentage as those who grew up in two-parent homes.
There are indeed risks associated with having divorced or separated parents:
- Boys are more likely to react to parents' divorce with anger, academic problems, truancy, or aggressive behavior than girls, who may try to please adults by suppressing feelings.
- Boys are more likely to suffer from depression when the father leaves the home, especially when a boy is not able to spend time with him consistently.
- Boys may also lose connection with a mother because she must work longer hours to provide for the family and keep a home running.
- Boys may assume blame for the break-up of a family.
It is worth noting that many of the negative effects of divorce have to do with economics. Men are far more likely than women to maintain their standard of living after a divorce, while women (who still tend to have custody of children) find that their economic level falls significantly. Moving to neighborhoods and schools that are less safe and stable may account for some of the problems boys have in the aftermath of a divorce. It is critically important that fathers continue to offer emotional and financial support to their sons after divorce.
Encourage Emotional Awareness
Boys often mask their emotions in order to appear manly. Boys may want to protect their parents and may refuse to talk about their own pain, grief, and worry, or they may act out their feelings by misbehaving. One of the best ways to help your son through difficult times is to encourage him to identify his emotions and to talk about them. Let him know that no matter how tired or anxious you may be, you always have time to listen to him.
Your attitude is also an important factor in how your son adjusts to divorce. If you consider yourself a victim or look for someone to blame, your son will mirror your beliefs. If you face your challenges, seek healing and help for yourself, and do your best to move into a new life, your son will learn from you.
Divorce is a loss for everyone in the family. You will grieve; so will your son. But you can also help each other stay connected, look for the positive, and hang on to your optimism and faith. Don't try to fix your son's feelings: You cannot do that, no matter how much you love him. But you can offer understanding, encouragement, and support. A wise person once said that a family is any circle of people who love each other. You can make sure that your son always has a loving, connected family.