They can go one of two ways, if they have social and emotional problems brought on by the divorce. They can spend their teenage years being wild and out-of-control, or they can spend them as a virtual recluse, rarely leaving their rooms except to go to mandatory functions such as school. Neither one of these options is very good, and both can lead to more problems later on in life.
When children become wild and hard to control, parents are often at a loss as to how to help them. It is difficult enough to control a wild, unruly teenager when there are two parents in the house, but much more difficult when there is only one parent. To compound the problem, that single parent often works two jobs or long hours to provide food, clothing, and shelter for himself or herself and the children. This absence from the house can allow the child too much unsupervised free time in which to experiment with new and dangerous things that can get them in trouble with parents, the law, or worse.
On the other side of the equation are the reclusive children. Their deep distrust of anyone else does not cause them to adapt a lack of concern to their attitude like the wild teenagers, but rather they become very cautious, almost paranoid, of venturing forth into the world. They do not want to get hurt again. Because of this, they do not make friends easily and they lose out on the all-important peer relationships that they need during their teenage years. They do not join clubs, they do not play sports, and they do not go out with their friends on the weekends because they have no friends to go out with.
Add in the fact that the parent is not home much due to work obligations, and there is great potential for the children to become depressed and even suicidal. While this behavior can also happen in two-parent families, there are often warning signs that sometimes go overlooked in single-parents families simply because the parent is not around to see them. It is not really the fault of either parent, but it is certainly not the fault of the child, either. What it is, is a very important issue that all divorced parents should be aware of. Evidence by other researchers has shown a decreased commitment to the marriages of these children of divorce when they grow up (Amato & DeBoer, 2001), and problems with physical, psychological, social well-being (Hetherington, 2003).
According to Tami Videon (2002) this delinquency and depression can be very pronounced in single-parent families. Her research does indicate, however, that the relationship that the parents had with the children before the breakup can greatly affect how the children will react when the parents divorce and one moves out. For example, if the parents and children were very close and were not just parent and child but friends as well, the children will take the divorce better than they would if the parents previously fought all of the time and had little time for their children.
While this seems an obvious point, not all parents realize how important their relationships with their children are. Once they are grown up it is often too late to make too many changes to that relationship. A relationship between parents and children must be cultivated from the beginning and not be let go of simply because of a divorce. It is not the children's fault, but many children think that their parents divorced because the children did something wrong. Especially if they are very young, they often do not realize that the parents, not the children, are the ones to blame for the divorce.
There is a further point made by Videon (2002). When children are separated from the same-sex parent, their delinquency is greater than when they are separated from the opposite-sex parent. Children and teenagers are often much closer to the parent of the same sex, and Videon and other researchers believe that this closeness results in the greater difficulties when the parent and child are separated. Also, the happier they were with their relationship with the same-sex parent, the greater the delinquency after separation (Videon, 2002).
Other researchers have indicated that there is generally less stress and damage in the mother-child relationship than there is in the father-child relationship (Nakonezy, Rodgers, & Nusssbaum, 2003), and that the lack of involvement on the part of the father rather than the divorce itself is often to blame for many of the problems that the children face (Ahrons & Tanner, 2003).
For example, if a young girl treasures her mother and has a very close relationship with her she will react with greater post-parental-divorce delinquency if she is required to live with her father than she will if she stays with her mother. The worse the relationship with her mother was before the separation, the higher her delinquency rate will be. The same is true for father-son relationships, where a son may resent being made to live with his mother if he and his father previously enjoyed a very close relationship. His delinquency problems would be helped by allowing him to live with his father, because he will have less delinquent tendencies if he remains in the same house with the parent he is closest to. Forcing children to stay in the same house with the parent they are not closest to after the divorce often causes unhappiness and rebellion.
Regardless of the structure of the family, Videon (2002) says that opposite-sex parents still have a strong influence on an adolescent's depression, so it is very important that the parents each maintain a good relationship with their children and make sure that they are in the children's lives often, even if they do not live together anymore. This should be done regardless of whether the mother and father can get along with each other. They should be civil to each other for the sake of their children's needs, emotions, and feelings, which are likely very fragile after the divorce.
Videon (2002) also points out that there is a need for further study of gender-specific influences on children's well-being after a divorce. Clearly, the same-sex parent has a lot of influence; more so than the opposite-sex parent in a divorce situation. While there has not been much study done on this type of relationship, further research into it would be very helpful for parents who are trying to help their children cope with the pain of divorce. Often parents must put their own desires and feelings aside for the sake of their children, and that is made somewhat easier if the parents and children already have a close relationship where they can talk to and confide in one another.
Biblarz and Gottainer (2000) compared the success rate of children raised by mothers who were widowed and mothers who were divorced to see if there was a significant difference between the two or if all single-parent families were basically the same. Their results were somewhat surprising, as they found significantly lower levels of happiness, occupational status, and education in adult children who were raised by divorced women as opposed to widowed women.
The effect of a father dying did not seem to be as severe and lasting as the effect of a father who left the marriage. One theory is that the children know, when a parent dies, that they cannot see them anymore. Therefore it is understandable that their father is no longer in their lives. When a father moves out due to divorce, the children sense that he should be there; could be there, but is not. This may contribute somewhat to the sense of loss and unhappiness that many children seem to have after a divorce. It may also contribute to lower self-worth, which will naturally have an effect on the success rate and occupational goals of the children in question.
Biblarz and Gottainer (2000) also suggest that divorced single mothers are more likely to be in the lower-paid section of the workforce, be financially stressed out and concerned over bills, and be less able to spend much time with their children, than widowed mothers. Even though there were not significant differences between the two groups in other areas such as religion, health-related behaviors such as exercise levels, child-rearing abilities and concerns, and family values, the differences in work roles and finances were enough to cause problems for the children of divorced single mothers. These problems, the study showed, carry over into adulthood. For some children of divorced parents, these problems plague them all their lives. They never really go away.
The social structure, because of work, finances, and other aspects; including the stigma attached to divorce in the United States; is very different between divorced single mothers and widowed single mothers. Biblarz and Gottainer…