Research Says What? A Sock in the Stomach to Divorced Parents

03/24/2011 11:33 am 11:33:27 | Updated May 25, 2011

As if divorced parents don't have enough to worry about, soaking in weekly news stories about study after study can really pile on the guilt. It seems like new study findings are being continually released showing how kids of divorce may be headed downhill. Parents' divorce impacts kids more than money does. Bedtime reading to keep up with this research is frightening, and disheartening. Will the kids be alright?

Some don't even make sense on the surface. Happy teens may be more likely to divorce when they are adults. Additional findings can fuel a divorced parent's concerns. Our kids may be more likely to: drop out of high school, abuse alcohol, have suicidal thoughts, feel anxious in social situations and more. Their grades and behavior may suffer; they may get sick more often and recover more slowly and be more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Don't forget even more extreme scenarios: some may be more likely to be incarcerated for committing a crime as a juvenile, and divorced kids are near five times more likely to live in poverty than kids with married parents. Once they become adults, they may think consider divorce the first solution if their own marriages have problems.

Stories about all of the above often do put the findings in perspective. While divorce certainly causes kids some emotional distress, not all will experience every finding. Not every kid will commit a crime or have his grades drop. Some will be high achievers, and, yes, some will grow up to marry happily ever after.

Luckily, we also read about many positive things parents can do to help our kids cope. Experts remind us we are not helpless. We can limit conflict and fighting with the ex in front of the kids, remind kids the divorce wasn't their fault, acknowledge their feelings and say "I love you" more often. In fact, one recent study by scientists at the Prevention Research Center at Arizona State University suggests that having caring, nurturing parents is more important to a child's well-being than having married parents. The study followed a group of 240 mothers who had custody of 10-year-old children for a period of six years. The mothers and their children took part in a divorce intervention program, where moms learned disciplinary skills and ways to improve their overall relationships with their children. Six years later, the children whose mothers were both nurturing and firm disciplinarians were the most well adjusted. Children with warm, but firm, mothers experienced fewer symptoms of depression, generally had higher self-esteem and were less likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs. That is some encouraging research to reassure us that if divorced parents can be consistent and loving, our kids may turn out alright.

But will it be that simple? It's the bulk of the overall studies that come out -- and knowing there is a percentage of kids of divorce who will suffer some of the negative fates -- that will keep us up at night, hoping it won't be our kids.