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Erin Mantz Headshot

Too Young To Remember? Maybe Not

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Parents divorcing who have kids under five may try to find some small level of comfort in thinking: "Maybe they are too young to remember much," or "At least they're still young." Maybe not, say new study findings that show children are most affected by changes to their family structure in the first 5 years of life, before they start elementary school.

Sure, studies on divorce's impact on kids seem to come out often, as I described in a post earlier this year, "Research Says What? A Sock in the Stomach to Divorced Parents." But this one captured my attention. Rebecca Ryan of the Department of Psychology at Georgetown University, who studied the effect of divorce or separation on nearly 3,500 younger and older children, found that kids who are quickly integrated into a new blended family have fewer behavior problems that those who were not.

In fact, she found that children of blended families actually receive protective benefits that seem to help them avoid some of the negative behaviors exhibited by children who remain in single-parent households. This challenges many current beliefs and may relieve a little of the guilt parents feel when they bring their kids quickly into a new, blended family.

I was just five when my parents divorced. Does that explain the issues and challenges I face today? Is that why I went through my own divorce at forty? Despite all the studies in the world, I will never know. Will my younger son, the one who was under five when I divorced, suffer more as a result, while my older son will sail through future changes? Who knows!

As a child, I went pretty quickly into blended families on both sides. I didn't have any behavior problems." On the contrary, I tried hard to do everything right and excelled at school, in the arts and with friends. Could that be attributed to going right into blended families, or that I was starting first grade when I became a child of divorce, like Ryan's study suggests? I'll never know. Certainly, at the time, it didn't seem very easy!

Ryan's study certainly gives divorced parents something to think about. Perhaps it calls for closer consideration of therapy for the littlest ones who we often think will be fine.

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