New study reveals spiritual effects of divorce on children

.- A new book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, chronicles a three year study which found, among other things, that many children of divorced parents experience a profound lack of trust in God and faith in the Church.

Elizabeth Marquardt of the Institute for American Values and Professor Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin co-directed the study, which was funded by the Lilly Endowment.

Noting the divorce rate which has skyrocketed in the U.S. over recent decades, Marquardt and Glenn interviewed 70 young adults face-to-face, and compiled telephone surveys of 1,500 young adults--half of whom were raised in divorced families and half from intact families.

The findings were surprising. They report that young people from divorced families “experience a loss of trust that affects their belief in God—making them overall much less religious than their peers from intact families,” although for some, the experience dramatically strengthened their faith.

In addition, many of the young people raised with divorce “often say the church failed them. Of those children of divorce who were regular [attendees] at a place of worship, two-thirds say that no one from the clergy or congregation reached out when their families broke up.”

As a result, a greater percentage of children of divorce claim to be “religious” or attend church than their two-parent counterparts.

Children of divorce are also “much less likely to say their mother and father taught them how to pray and prayed with them – and are much more likely to say they doubt the sincerity of their parents’ religious beliefs, do not share their parents’ values, and to say there are things their parents have done that they find hard to forgive.”

Perhaps most strikingly, the pair found that many “feel pain and loss evoked by the idea of God as a father or parent.”

Marquardt and Glenn cited one child of divorce, who said “when she prayed as a child she thought of it as a letter to God. She exclaimed, ‘But then you kind of wonder about it ’cause they never answer. So that made me wonder—well, I wrote to him. I didn’t get a letter back. That sounds like Dad!’

The study however, was not all negative. Marquardt and Glenn further found that for many of these children, the experience actually strengthened their faith, which gave them something to hang on to.

In fact, thirty-eight percent of young people from divorced families (compared to 22 percent from intact families), say, “I think of God as the loving father or parent I never had in real life.”

Despite this, the authors conclude that there is no such thing as a “good divorce”, and encourage greater compassion toward both the divorced couple and their children. 

The book is now available through Crown Publishers for $24.95.

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