Children of divorce can have
a tough time with the label, even in college
By Morgan Russell
December 15, 2006 | For some students attending college
in a religiously dominant culture is challenging enough.
For others, it becomes an even more difficult task when
it involves a broken home. For those coming from a broken
home, attending college in a place that frowns on divorce
is even more difficult. Divorce does happen. Why must
students who come from divorced families feel the need
to justify their current family situation to other students?
Erica Cooper recognizes the looks of shock that fall
her way when she explains that her parents are divorced.
"It's not a big deal to me anymore, but going to school
in a consistent society that has specific views on marriage
makes it tough. It's a culture shock for other students
whose background deems divorce as unacceptable," said
Erica, 21, an exercise science student from Idaho Falls.
The culture of Utah casts a shadow on those students
who don't share the ideal Utah background. The reinforced
stereotype labels students, not parents, as "divorced"
and leaves students explaining situations and providing
answers as to why.
"If it's not the look of shock, then it's just silence
and eyes hit the floor," explains Erica. "I saw it more
when I was a freshman; some students just do not know
how to handle the initial 'my parents are divorced'
statement. The divorce subject is just awkward tension
for someone who doesn't understand that all marriages
are not successful."
Sara Saxton, 20, majoring in Child Development, experiences
a similar reaction. She has learned to avoid the topic
completely by telling friends that her parents are not
divorced and instead "pretends that they are still married
as an effort to prevent inquisitions as to why they
divorced or what my religious preference is."
Plenty of students have faced the divorce card. Whether
they choose to bluff or lay it all out there is a decision
that only he or she can make. But the truth of the matter
is that a majority of children from divorced homes have
faced the music, have dealt with it, and have proceeded
to move on with their lives.
Steve Allred, PhD psychologist at Antelope Springs
Counseling states, "Not only have kids dealt with their
parents' divorces but the vast majority of them have
thrived, despite the stress and upheaval that are common
in the early stages of parental divorce." Most divorced
children feel later on in their adulthood that their
families are normal and their relationships with each
of their parents have improved. Most even felt their
parents' divorce was a good decision and that both they
and their parents were better off because of it.
According to Sue Campbell, therapist at the Family
Institute of Northern Utah, these views actually support
new research that much of the current writing about
divorce "has exaggerated its negative effects and ignored
its sometimes considerable positive effects."
Campbell further explains that, "Divorce is an experience
that for most people is challenging and painful. But
the disastrous results of splitting up have been exaggerated
for children and parents. Divorce can be seen as a window
of opportunity to build a new and better life."
Just how much damage divorce does to kids is a real
hot-button topic. Past research shows that children
are at risk for a variety of difficulties, including
dropping out of school, emotional problems, substance
abuse, having babies out of wedlock and having their
own marriages end in divorce. Despite the fact that
children of divorce may be dealing with more issues
than kids from a cohesive family, it doesn't mean they're
any more screwed up about love.
Mavis Hetherington, a professor in the department
of psychology at the University of Virginia, hopes to
alter the national dialogue. She believes that too much
emphasis is placed on the long-term harmful effects
of divorce and that it is almost becoming a self-fulfilling
prophecy, Hetherington says. "I think it is really important
to emphasize that most do cope and go on to have a reasonably
happy or sometimes very happy life."
Read about Mavis Hetherington.
Hetherington's research agrees with Ph.D. Scot Allgood,
professor of Utah State's family and consumer studies,
who has studied the effects of divorce on children for
more than two decades. "All is not lost. Many learn
from their parent's mistakes and make it a goal to see
their relationships flourish. Students need to remember
that they are not doomed to repeat parent's mistakes."
Click here to learn more about Utah State's Marriage
and Family Therapy Program
Steve Allred also adds, "With so much divorce happening,
people in their 20s and 30s have become skeptical about
marriage, whether they come from a broken home or not.
The only thing to do is to go into relationships with
awareness and an open mind. The same could be said for
those who are not accustomed to the fact that divorce
unfortunately happens. Have an open mind and live in
the world around you."