I did not grow up in a stereotypical family home with loving parents and siblings. At five years old, my parents separated to get divorced. My mother received full custody. We moved to a neighboring city to remain close to my father. Although they were getting divorced, she wanted to ensure that he and I maintained contact for a father-daughter relationship. As I got older weekend visits became more and more infrequent. It was due to schedule conflicts from his odd work hours, my mother's work hours, and my school schedule. Since I was so young, I realize that it seemed 'normal' for me to always be with my mom and only see my father sometimes.
The relationship with my mother was and continues to be toxic due to our differences. Children are believed to be the reflection of their parents, often forgetting their adolescents will grow into their own. My mother often forgot I was my own person, making it difficult for us to connect. She was raised in a strict evangelical home, passing along the same teachings to me. As I grew older, forming my own opinions and decisions became clearer; I stopped going to church because I did not agree with the values it instilled. The rules and regulations of the church were drilled into my head at a very young age. Sadly, it was not something I could follow through the rest of my life. The best decision I have made in my life was leaving the church. The downfall of my decision is the broken relationship I have with my mother because of it.
Before my own separation from the church, she remarried, and I felt betrayed. At six years old, I was able to understand that a stranger was entering my life. I could not understand why our little family needed him. She claimed she got married to have an extra helping hand with me. Both she and I were mistreated in very similar but very different ways by her second husband. After 17 long years, they are divorced, yet somehow, she has hope for another marriage. Witnessing my mother through two failed marriages has discouraged me from pursuing serious romantic relationships in the future.
Romantic relationships are healthy to have if built on a well-balanced foundation, but I cannot picture myself getting married. My mother has been independent before, during, and after her marriage, I wish that she could see that. She does not need a man to validate her. As I came to that conclusion by evaluating her, I came to the same conclusion for myself. I have learned independence and hard work ethic from watching her. I have learned to deal with the stresses of life, but also not to place blame where it did not need to be. I have learned to take care of myself and be responsible for my actions, knowing that whatever the choices may be that I make, I will have to live with the consequences, good or bad.
My mother’s divorce and religious beliefs have affected our relationship. It has affected my adolescence more than any other experience up-to-date; it has changed the way I think and process relationships, and how I view religious practices. During the divorces, I was cognitively aware of what was happening; I was able to see the bad side of divorce, making me wary of romantic relationships. Our arguments about religious beliefs, it has made us wary of believing someone as forgiving and mighty as God would allow many religions to exist, wars, and death. It has taken me a while to appreciate my experiences and appreciate the lessons it has taught me.
The focus of this paper is on the view of romantic relationships, marriage, and relationships between mother-child as well as father-child relationships during and after parental divorce. The environment children grow socially and cognitively greatly influenced the type of person they become in the future. Ideally, a mother is thought to be nurturing and caring, there when her child is in need, and makes everything better. The ideal father is thought to be strong yet kind, who fixes everything if it is broken, and always there to lend a helping hand. Now, place these two ideal parents in a perfect world; mother and father would stay married and live happily ever after with their children.
In the real world, marriages do not always last. About half of the first marriages are expected to end. The age of the child or children involved in divorced families may leave adverse effects on behavior affecting cognitive and identity development. The younger the adolescent, the stronger the sense of abandonment may feel, older adolescents are able to understand and feel less responsible. Children's sense of security and love from both parents are affected greatly by the separation of the family, which is why children are the greatest victims during this time. Molding of the child traditionally needs a mother and father under one roof. It is looked down upon to break the bond that has been valued for so long. The media’s depiction of divorced families is unhelpful to the stigma it already carries. On TV, divorced families are seen as dysfunctional and unhappy, whereas families that remain together are seen as happy and loved. Adolescents spend a lot of time watching TV programs – watching dysfunctional divorced families on television does not help with coping skills, instead, it furthers the negative connotation of divorce and views it only as bad without any positive effects.
Studies have focused on the emotional well-being of the child under the age of 18 who have witnessed their parents' divorce. Little research has been done on the ability of adolescents to maintain romantic relationships afterward. There are guidebooks on how to build a 'perfect' relationship. The first example of a relationship with a child is the demonstration parents show to one another. This can be explained by two theories written by Risch et al. (2004): attachment theory examines the role of mother-child and father-child relationships, and social learning theory, in summary, is the modeled behavior the child will follow.
Studies have shown strong relationships with the mother to be more beneficial in perceiving an adolescent’s future romantic relationships than with the father; however, both relationships with either parent determine different effects. Daughters and sons look up to the same-sex parent for modeled behavior; daughters also may be more subjected to the effects than males according to Lee (2018). Traditionally, women are the caregivers of the family, the glue that holds everything together. Lee states females are more vulnerable to succumbing to the pressure of maintaining a relationship with a partner due to social stresses; females that come from divorced families also show more characteristics of negative behaviors toward romantic relationships than men. With increased support and involvement, studies show to be correlated with positive future romantic relationships for adolescents.
Multiple researchers deem dating an important emotional developmental skill for the adolescent. Consequently, the experience of dating may be altered by divorce. Fear of being rejected and hurt due to the misinterpretation of the word ‘love’ may prevent a successful relationship. Difficulty resolving conflicts with communication skills and understanding views may prove to be a challenge. The adolescent may also jump full throttle into relationships, one after the other in hopes to find what could be ‘love’. Peers outside of the family home have a role to play as well in the formation of romantic relationships. The quality of future relationships is influenced to be a combination of both peers and parents. Children who feel unwanted and less loved are likely to look for love outside of the family, leading to romantic relationships at a younger age. Parents capable of maintaining an authoritative parenting style may help prevent negative effects. The younger the adolescent is, the more sexually active they are; this leads to earlier pregnancies and marriages (Shulman et al., 2012).
Different cultures and religions come with different sets of values on the topic of marriage. Islam and Christianity religions believe divorce is wrong, once you are married to someone, that someone is your life partner. Buddhists believe marriage is a choice but see no real necessity for it, Mormon elders are known for their views on polygamy, and many more. Divorce is seen as a sin under God and disrespectful since it was seen through him that two people got together. Risch, Jodl, and Eccles (2004) reported on a statistic dated back to 1990 of African-American families having higher divorce rates compared to European-American families. Culturally speaking, this will tell adolescents that African-American kids will have a more positive view of divorce and believe that it is normal for their group to get divorced versus the non-dominant group. It is easy for children to be discouraged from divorce if there is no previous experience with it. The more a child is exposed to a stimulus, in this case, divorce, the more normative it becomes.
When a parent leaves the household, an adolescent may have abandonment symptoms. It is a different type of loss, one that is misunderstood if not handled carefully. Dr. Fracasso of Towson University states in her lectures with video-clip examples explained the best approach that has been studied to tell children about divorce. Parents should seek counseling and an agreed approach to explain the next steps that will take place in their family. Dr. Fracasso also emphasized the need to tell adolescents that it is never their fault; never allow your child to feel blamed for the separation of the adults. Counseling benefits children and divorced parents to help them cope with the change and what can be done to assist with the adjustment.
It is important parents continue a relationship with adolescents after separation. It is believed that all aspects of a family dynamic will have a negative impact due to divorce. Children will view divorce as the answer to an unhappy marriage in the future, unable to resolve using solution skills. Patterns of marriage, divorce, and remarriage transpiring common, it is possible that children will not have a stable father figure and are put in a step-family dynamic. Adolescents may present negative views with the introduction of a step-father, it may feel as if he is a stranger trying to infiltrate the family; the adolescent will be withdrawn and will keep their distance as much as possible. A positive aspect step-parent may have is the outlook on remarriage. Remarriages may change adolescents’ views on divorce. Remarrying a second time may be beneficial for the family overall, and children will be given a second chance to see what love is.
Divorce and adolescents are two words no parent wants to put together. There are many reasons parents do not stay together, however, the most important position parents should take is for the benefit of the child. It is important to let the adolescent know that it is never their fault if the relationship fails. It is important to let the adolescent know that there will be love from both sides to make the new family dynamic work. Respect and love between parents and adolescents is a great way to instill great values for future relationships regardless of the divorce status of the parents. Every family is different, every divorce is different, every outcome is different.