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Questions about how divorce affects children are generally of two kinds. Firstly, how do people whose parents divorced while they were still children differ from those who come from unbroken’ homes? Secondly, what are the more immediate effects of parental conflict, the uncertainty, upheaval and changes brought about by their separation and the potential deprivations suffered by one-parent families? For our purpose, the second is more important because an understanding of how children may be feeling at the time their parents separate helps us to be more alert to their fears and anxieties and, on occasion, may even enable us to plan and manage some aspects of this separation in a way which avoids unnecessary distress.

In the longer term most parents, whatever their circumstances, go through periods when they worry a good deal about their children’s behaviour and achievements, and how they will eventually turn out. Many of the divorced parents in the Sheffield study blamed themselves whenever they experienced difficulties with their children, so that the problems and setbacks experienced by all parents – poor school reports, minor delinquencies and bad behaviour – were seen as a direct result of the upheavals of the past.

Even parents who had no particular worries about their children at the time they were interviewed still seemed very anxious about the future, fearing that the suffering their children had experienced in the past would have permanent consequences. In such circumstances a dry recital of research findings which suggest that there is little proven evidence of any long-term effects amongst children of divorced parents is of little consolation. It seems much more important that individual parents should be encouraged to think about their particular situation and develop a greater understanding of their own resources and potential to help their children through the inevitable period of distress and the changes in circumstances caused by the separation.

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