What We Know About The Sleeper Effect In Children Of Divorce

While there is some truth to Wallerstein’s research, the findings have received some pushback over the years—particularly from people who believe her research was a way to guilt people into staying in unhappy marriages. Others simply says her claims aren’t strong enough to be substantiated. “The estimated effects of divorce are not as strong as Wallerstein appears to claim,” behavioral scientist Paul Amato, Ph.D., wrote in the Family Relations journal in 2003.

A 2002 study from psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington found most children experience short-term negative effects but recover quite quickly when they find out their parents are getting divorced. Within the first year, children may take on feelings of anxiety, anger, shock, and disbelief, the research shows. By year two, though, most of those feelings dwindle or go away altogether. Hetherington’s research has shown the majority of children of divorce don’t have serious social or emotional problems in adulthood.

“Much of current research finds that the most important predictors of adjustment after divorce is the presence of conflict, and having a highly caring and non-overprotective relationship with at least one caregiver,” Sosa explains. 

It’s also important to consider the many children who have developed maladaptive coping strategies because they witnessed their parents stay in unhappy marriages. “In this sense, it is not the divorce per se that is the only determinant,” Sosa says. 

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