I think this article from the Wall Street Journal is so good, I’m quoting it in its entirety:
The conventional wisdom on divorce is that while a breakup is hard on children, parents can minimize a lot of the damage with a “good divorce.” Or can they? A new book out this month presents compelling evidence that even a relatively amicable divorce cannot spare children from psychological trauma that affects their self-image and shapes their personalities into adulthood.
“Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce” by Elizabeth Marquardt (Crown), will not come as welcome news to parents who may be seeking a split on the theory that there is nothing worse for children than growing up amid marital discord or unhappiness. The book establishes that the separation of parents bifurcates children’s inner lives, forcing them to become navigators, conciliators and emotional caregivers at an early age, all of which leaves them with a sense of tentativeness and isolation even as adults. Most startling of all are the findings suggesting that children whose parents remain in somewhat unhappy, low-conflict marriages (more common than high-conflict unions involving physical fights or other abuse) fare better in certain crucial spheres than do children of divorce.
The book is based on research co-directed by Ms. Marquardt and Prof. Norval Glenn, a family scholar at the University of Texas at Austin. They estimate that one-quarter of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are children of divorce. Their study included face-to-face interviews with 71 young adults and a national telephone survey of 1,500 others–half from divorced families and half from intact ones.
Many of the comparisons are stunning. Even after a “good” divorce, 52% of respondents say that family life was stressful (compared with 6% from happy marriages and 35% from unhappy but low-conflict marriages). Half report that even as children they “always felt like an adult” (compared with 36% and 39% in the intact-family groups).
According to the study, children of divorce feel less protected by their parents, less emotionally secure and less safe at home than do other children. Children of divorce are less likely to look to their parents for comfort and more likely to feel obliged to protect their parents emotionally. They tend to see their parents as polar opposites long after marital conflict ends. Twice as many children of divorce agreed that, while growing up, “I felt like a different person with each of my parents.”
It was responses like that which gave rise to the title of Ms. Marquardt’s book. “Marriage gives kids one world,” she told us, and divorce forces them to inhabit two, compelling many to become “early moral forgers” with a “divided self” as they try to fit into two, separate parental realms.
No one disputes that some marriages must be dissolved. What concerns Ms. Marquardt is that the “happy talk” about well-managed breakups lets adults dismiss and make light of children’s real experiences. While her book may help grown-up children make sense of those experiences, it also carries a strong message for parents who are deciding whether to end a marriage: There may be no such thing as a “good divorce.”