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Gina Stepp has a master's degree in forensic psychology with an emphasis on trauma and resilience. As family and relationships editor for Vision, she examines the role interpersonal connection plays in ensuring human well-being.

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Divorced Kid: A Documentary by MPR's Sasha Aslanian

  
  
  
Adult children of divorce look back on the past to offer lessons for the future
Divorced Kid by Sasha Aslanian

In a new four-part documentary titled Divorced Kid, Minnesota Public Radio's Sasha Aslanian reports on lessons learned from the divorce boom of the 1970s. A child of divorce herself, Aslanian admits that she felt as though "the sky was falling" during her parents' breakup. Nevertheless, she once bristled at hints that she came from a "broken home," and undertook her massive research project five years ago in order to prove once and for all that "divorced kids" aren't "all messed up." What she says she found instead was, "how deep this stuff cuts. The past stays with us as a cautionary tale."

While noting that some pop psychologists in the 70s believed that "staying together" for the sake of the kids was more harmful than walking away from an unsatisfying marriage, Aslanian counters, "We know more now."

Following is a brief excerpt from her in-depth coverage. However, it's well worth taking the time to visit the MPR News Web site to read more:

Nick Wolfinger is a demographer from the University of Utah who pores over giant data sets from the National Survey of Families and Households, tracking children of divorce.

"The bad news is that you really are much more likely to get divorced as an adult if your parents divorced, and parental divorce really does affect almost every aspect of your behavior in your own relationships," said Wolfinger.

Wolfinger's academic book has the ominous title: Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in their Own Marriages. It's like reading a mathematical proof that you're doomed.

"This is why I'm so much fun at weddings," Wolfinger quipped.

When people ask what the bride and groom's chances are, Wolfinger said he cherrypicks the most optimistic data for the happy couple. He does have some advice for the rest of us.

"If you want to stay married, marry someone just like you. Except if you're from a divorced family, marry someone from an intact family," said Wolfinger.

That's because Wolfinger found when either the husband or wife was a child of divorce, those marriages were almost twice as likely to dissolve as marriages where neither spouse came from a divorced family.

Marriages between two spouses from divorced families were more than three times as likely to fail. Wolfinger finds children of divorce are more likely to cut and run.

"If you experience relationships as transitory while growing up, that's what you'll do as an adult," he said.

Wolfinger finds children of divorce are about 50 percent more likely to end their own marriages. He breaks down the risk factors that many children of divorce bring into their marriages—marrying young, not finishing their education, living together first.

The age the child experiences divorce also matters. Wolfinger gives an example of a 4-year-old whose parents divorce.

"Most people remarry, so a couple years later that kid is going to pick up a stepparent," said Wolfinger. "And as you probably know, second marriages have even higher rates of divorce than first marriages, so that kid may experience a second divorce."

By contrast, if a 17-year-old's parents divorce, chances are by the time there's a remarriage, the child is out of the house.

"The age the child initially experiences divorce simply determines exposure to additional family structure transitions," Wolfinger concluded.

But Divorced Kid offers more than simple statistics: it's the personal stories that make the greatest impact. Aslanian's full documentary can be downloaded from the MPR News site.


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