The idea that children of divorced parents would be the ones who would suffer, was seen as conservative thinking and many scoffed at this notion in the 1970?s. What child would want to be part of a family that constantly fought? With the accepted idea of couples counselling a few years away many saw divorce as their only option. Because of this attitude, today there are fewer and fewer people under the age of 30 who are getting married than at any other time in history. The mistakes of the past generation are well documented and most people have a rudimentary knowledge of what divorce does to people. If not from first hand experiences than from witnessing aunt’s, uncles or cousins endure though a divorce. This has made an impact on many young people and has made them a bit wary about the institution. Their apprehension can be attributed to the rising number of people that divorced in the 1970?s and the effect it had on the attitude of their children towards marriage in the 1990?s.
The Divorce Act of 1968 [a law that allowed couples to divorce because of cruelty, adultery or if they have been living apart for three years] was seen by many people living in the 1970?s as a second chance for happiness, consequently the divorce rate nearly tripled. By 1970 the divorce rate stood at nearly 150 divorces per 100,000 persons, up from 55 divorces per 100,000 persons in 1965 (Canadian Dept of Justice). In 1985 when the Divorce Act was amended there was a spike of 25% in the divorce rate [see appendix 1]. Many people were waiting to for the changes the Canadian government was going to make to the Divorce Act. After the changes became law many people who had been waiting to officially divorce now could after only one year (Cameron 1).
This spike can then be directly attributed to the amendments. By comparison the divorce rate today stands at 240 divorces per 100,000 persons and although this is a much higher number than in 1970 the divorce rate has been dropping steadily for the past 5 years, [with the exception of 1998 when it rose slightly (2.5%) over the previous year] (Canadian Dept of Justice). The wide spread belief of the early 1970?s was that children in an unhappy home would suffer and that staying in a marriage where the parental unit was always arguing and fighting a lot was not fair to the children. This led some people to walk away from their marriages at the first sign of trouble because they believed it was in the best interest for their children. A happy mother and father, even if they were not living under the same roof was suppose to be better than a parental unit that was fighting, and there was a lot of heated debates going on in the 1970?s.
Not only was the no fault Divorce Act of 1968 a new idea, but a couple of revolutions were also going on at this time as well. The sexual revolution, (with the invention of the birth control pill) and the gender revolution, (which was a struggle for equal rights for women as well as gays and lesbians) both these revolutions helped educate women and helped bond women together to issues that concerned women. But many of these ideas were far from the so-called accepted social norm of the time. Many couples could not deal with all the new changes that were going on and so a lot of couples divorced.
“If divorce could make one or both parents happier, then it was likely to improve the well-being of children as well” explains American social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in her book, The Divorce Culture (Driedger 1). If anyone needed a place to go to see just how fulfilling life could be outside of wedlock all they had to do was to turn on their television sets. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Mary and Rhoda were full of single female role models, all having careers. The infamous line in the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show “You?re going to make it after all”, seemed to sum up the mood of women in the 1970?s (Cameron 2).
Now, the children of this generation are grown up and a very significant percentage of them are not thinking about marriage. The 1996 Census report shows just how wary young people today are about this formal institution; 67 percent of men age 25-29 have never been married compared to 35 percent in 1951 (Cameron 13). And it is not just men who are steering clear of marriage, 51 percent of women age 25-29 have not walked down the isle, where as only 21 percent of women in 1951 did not. It would seem that there are more important matters in the lives of today?s youth that are taking them away from marriage.
An article written in MacLean?s magazine in May of 2000 entitled I am Single, asked a number of Canadians about being single and what their attitude is towards marriage. Christine Ryan, 22, is a first year human relations student at Montreal?s Concordia University and has worked as a counsellor for low-income adults. She admits that she would love to, “have kids, live in a two-income household and raise [her] children with the love and affection of a mother and a father, [but] she really doubts that scenario is possible because she has seen too much infidelity, unhappiness and divorce among friends, family and through her previous job as a counsellor? (Cameron 14).
Right now she is focusing on acquiring a career and then raising children by herself. ” I think marriage is a fantasy, I think being able to live with someone for 50 years and not want to be with someone else along the way is a big myth” states Ryan.
Another article that was published in the Toronto Star in October of 2000 it also explored this issue. In this article Marco Moniz, age 23, a musician and forklift operator was interviewed.
” He says he has no desire to get married, especially since he doesn?t yet trust his intuition to choose the right women; I?m not sure being in love always measures up to a good marriage, because sometimes being in love might not be understood truly”. He also states; ” Before I get married in any traditional fashion, I?d have to already be married in my heart.” (Royce-Roll) Marco and Christine are not alone with this attitude; the percentage of one-person households in Canada in 1996 was at 24.2 percent.
This number has nearly doubled since 1971 when it was 13.4 percent. (Canadian Dept of Justice) Young women have learned from watching their mothers who went through a divorce and suffered financial hardships and are now making sure that they have a good job before even considering marriage. Some additional evidence for this argument is in the amount of women who are registering for university today. [See appendix 2] Compared to 1976 the amount of women enrolled in a Canadian university in 1998 has nearly doubled, up from 19,000 to 35,000 (E-STAT).
York University professor Harold Minden predicts that the divorce rate for Generation X will climb to 60 or 70 per cent because, “Children havent learned anything positive”. (Royce-Roll) Research done by Ed Spruijt and Martijn Goede, two sociology researchers in the Netherlands seem to support Harold Minden?s prediction. Ed Spruijt and Martijn Goede followed a total of 3,525 different households and analyzed data they collected from 2,517 youths aged 15 to 24. These households had a variety of family structures, single parent, step families and the traditional family unit. The results concerning single parent families were a bit shocking.
“Youngsters from single-parent families and step families have more experience in the breaking up of relationships (or love pangs) than do others; in particular, they have more experience than do youngsters from stable families. With regards to relational problems, there is a significant difference in the indicators of relational well being only between the youngsters from single parent families and all the other youngsters. Youngsters from single-parent families report more conflicts with their partners (thinking of splitting up) and have more divorce experience of their own, as compared with youngsters from the other family types.
Many children have grown up with out adults to model a happy marriage for them or even a marriage for them so they don?t have the skills they need to form a healthy and happy long-term relationship.’ (Goede 9) What is said here is simple, children need to witness their parents in a loving long term relationship if the children are to have a chance at developing a long term relationship of there own. ?In terms of having their own relationships, children of divorced parents, do not have a template with which to gauge their choices” (Kinsella 2).
Today the mainstream opinion is that love and marriage do not necessarily go hand in hand. With the invention of the birth control pill ideas about premarital sex were altered and with the inception of Canada?s Divorce Act the phrase,” till death us do part”, has little if any meaning to a lot of people. Divorced parents have shown their children that if things get too tough they could just walk away! But young people today are looking at their parents’ relationships and at the relationships they see portrayed on television. They are wondering, what works? They are looking to their parents for advice and they have little to offer to help their children build a long lasting bond with another human being.
It seems that every couple of months there is an article in a magazine or newspaper, or a television expose’ on the effects that divorce has had on children and no one today wants to be responsible for causing any children harm. The actions of the past generation has portrayed a negative view on how a lot of people behave towards marriage, but it seems that the positive side to this situation is that this generation is better informed and wiser. The lessons of the past seem to have been learned, and not everyone is in a hurry to make the same mistakes.
Symbolic interactionalist would look at the labels people are ascribed with and look at the change in attitude and relationship changes that are due to these ascribed labels. Divorce was once a very taboo subject even to talk about. People who had the misfortune of being divorced were label as an “divorce'”. With the Divorce Act of 1968 and the subsequent rise in divorces, attitudes changed and so to did the label. Divorce became a symbol of freedom, and of a second chance at happiness. Now it seems to me that divorce means financial and emotional instability. The emotional damage that children suffer when their parents divorce is well documented, and many labels have been created to describe these children. From the broken home children to the hero children and everything in between. The focus of couples who are divorcing has shifted from the couples to the children of that union.
The culture that divorce created has shown children who grew up immersed in this environment [particularly women who’s parents divorced] that financial independence is very important. It is a safe guard against poverty in the case that a women finds herself separated or divorced and in need of housing, clothing, food etc. Witnessing what their mother’s went through or friends mother endured after a divorce has taught many women to seek out careers that will enable hem to have security rather than relying on a man to provide for them. Financial independence today means post-secondary education and that means a lot of time spent in school. This time spent in school pushes back the age in which young women choose to get married as is seen in the statistics provided in paragraph five.
Although not all history lessons have been learned yet. Relationships require listening skills, time management, mutual respect and a commitment not only to one another but to a future together. The relationships children of divorced parents develop often fail because the skills necessary to achieved and maintain relationships were never modeled for them. The skills needed to nurture a relationship to maturity aren?t learned. The children repeat the same mistakes and divorce more often than children who grow up in a two parent family because the children only know the model of divorce. Although this model is dysfunctional, to the children of divorce it can become their accepted method of dealing with marital problems.
What everyone failed to see in the 1970’s is that for children, divorce is an accumulative process. It is not just a shot to the psyche that will get better in time; there are skills that children learn from a parental unit that cannot be learned by just having one parent around. Twenty-five years later, countless surveys, opinion polls, research and a lot of public money later it has been shown that the attitude of the 1970?s was misguided. The stress on children in a family break-up was longer lasting than first anticipated and has had repercussions on the generation now at an age to start lives of their own.
Canadian Dept of Justice. Statistics Canada. “Selected statistics on Canadian families and law.” Ottawa. 1997.
Cameron, Chan, Demont and McClelland,. “I am single.” Maclean’s. May 8, 2000.
Driedger, Sharon Doyle. “Canada: Children of divorced parents.” Maclean’s. Apr, 20, 1998. Vol. 111, Issue 16, p38.
Kinsella, Bridget. “Parents Split; Kids Can?t Commit” Publisher Weekly. Aug 14, 2000.
Vol. 247, Issue 33, p201-202.
O’Neil, Terry. “Unhappily ever after: a new 25 year study destroys the myth that children really bounce back from divorce.” Report Magazine. Oct 9, 2000. Vol. 27, p52-52.
Royce-Roll, Heather. “The negative spin-off of split-ups.” The Toronto Star. Oct 28, 2000.
Goede, Ed and Martijn de Goede. “Transitions in family structure and adolescent well-being”. eLibrary PLUS. 1997.
Witchel, Riobert I. Dealing with Students from Dysfunctional Families. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass INC, 1991.