Maggie Gallagher
Now is a striking moment in our cultural history. The cover of Time magazine asks "Should unhappy parents stay hitched?" and inside, citing the latest installment of Dr. Judith Wallerstein's 25-year study of children of divorce, suggests for the most part, yes.

In America this is a shocking, radical, minority view. Just 33 percent of Americans in the latest Time/CNN poll say parents with kids should stay together "even if the marriage is not working" (that's up from 21 percent in 1981), even though 64 percent of Americans agree that divorce either "almost always" or "frequently" harms kids.

At the Institute for American Values' annual symposium held this week in New York City, Judith Wallerstein talked about the findings released in her new book, "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce," and confronted some old criticism of her work.

The bottom line? "The impact of divorce is cumulative, crescendoing in adulthood," reports Dr. Wallerstein, and "The trauma of breakup is less influential than the many years in the divorced and remarried family."

When young, most children of divorce were badly frightened, desperately wanted their parents to stay together, experienced the loss not only of strong relationships with their fathers, but typically the loss of their overwhelmed and needy mothers as well. In general, the needs of the parents after the divorce -- for work, for a social life -- were "out of sync" with the demands of parenting. "It requires heroic efforts to sustain parenting" under these conditions, notes Dr. Wallerstein compassionately, "and not everyone is a hero."

As children of divorce grew older and considered love and marriage, their parents' divorce remained a vivid obstacle to be overcome. "I have the fear that any family I get involved with will dissolve," one child of divorce told her. Many more of the daughters of divorce became unwed or single mothers. The response of the divorce success stories -- adults who navigated their way to a good marriage, children and a satisfying work life -- was perhaps the most telling. They do not tell us, for the most part, "Hey, divorce is not so bad. After all I'm doing OK." Instead, over and over they told Dr. Wallerstein adamantly, "No child of mine is going to have the childhood I had."


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.



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