"Divorce is better for children than constant parental bickering. If parents do what makes them happy, their children will be happy too. In fact, divorce can actually benefit kids in the long run by introducing them to new people and new experiences."

So go the most popular myths today about divorce. But the reality doesn't line up with the myths, as Elizabeth Marquardt writes in her new book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.

Marquardt was a child of divorce who grew up hearing those myths. And they left her deeply frustrated. In the midst of what she calls "divorce happy talk," she felt that no one understood what she was going through. Now a scholar at the American Values Institute, Marquardt conducted a study on divorce to understand how it had shaped her life and the lives of others like her. Her research confirmed that "divorce powerfully changes the structure of childhood itself." And that's why divorce leaves its mark even on children who grow up to lead happy and successful lives, like Marquardt.

Her research indicates that even in the most civil of divorces, many burdens that rightly belong to the parents are shifted to their children. Though they need contact with both parents, for these children being with one parent necessarily means being without and missing the other. As Marquardt explains, "Making sense of two ways of life is an active experience for married couples...When they divorced, our parents successfully separated their two identities. But we remained the bridge between them, seeking to make sense of two increasingly different ways of living as we forged identities of our own. In other words, after a divorce the task that once belonged to the parents -- to make sense of their different worlds -- becomes the child's. The grown-ups can no longer manage the challenge, so the child is asked to try."

Divorcing parents, even the most loving ones, cannot spare their children this burden. It's inherent in the divorce experience as are many other burdens -- for example, the challenge of figuring out exactly what home means, and never knowing what's safe to say in front of one parent or the other, and being handed an unusual amount of independence at a very early age. And many children of divorce have problems learning to see God as a loving Father who will never leave them.

Some people have been upset by Marquardt's findings. But she isn't saying that divorce should never happen under any circumstances. Nor is she trying to make divorced parents feel bad, or portray children of divorce as damaged goods. She's only asking us to look at the situation from a child's point of view. She wants parents who are on the verge of divorce simply out of boredom or frustration or small amounts of conflict -- reasons that are given all too frequently -- to stop and think about what they're about to do to their children.

And she's right. Because if divorce is a major and devastating event in children's lives, then we obviously need to stop obsessing about what makes us happy and start paying more attention to our kids -- and maybe stay together for their sake.

Originally posted December 1, 2005.

Copyright © 2005 Prison Fellowship