Study: Siblings Help One Another During Parental Divorce

  • Studies detail the benefits of children having siblings and how they help one another during a parental divorce.
  • Testimony suggests that siblings find themselves in specific roles when dealing with parental divorce.
  • Research suggest that the more siblings you have, the less likely you'll experience a divorce.

"As a parent, it’s important to keep an eye on the similarities and differences in how your children process their new situation and their new realities."

In divorce cases, the spotlight is shined on the individuals divorcing, and how they are going to go about dividing their assets, arranging alimony, arranging child support, arranging custody and visitation, and other similarly important aspects like that. It becomes about the parents who no longer are committed to one another, and the children can find themselves lost in the shuffle.

Many children of divorce experience different types of emotions during this time, depending on their age and maturity level. Some might themselves gravitating toward one parent and ostracizing another parent. Some might be more susceptible to the suggestion of one parent over another. Some might look to reunite the estranged pair, while others may look to distance themselves from family members altogether.

The emotional dynamics get even more complex with the more children that are involved in the situation. For them, they not only have to pay attention to the changing dynamics in their parents and in their own lives, they also have to keep an eye on the reaction or reactions of their sibling or siblings.

The case

For many siblings, it can bring them emotionally closer to one another, improving their relationship. The New York Times detailed the story of three siblings reflecting on their parents’ divorce, from when they were children. They talked about how it brought them closer together and set them on a trajectory toward a better relationship.

Through adjusting to the new reality, they were able to create a family within their family and rely on one another. For them, they fell into roles, where one dealt with the parents and their requests, one became the comedic relief that helped ease a lot of the tension, and one that fell back and quietly allowed things to happen.

The study

Smith College did a study examining the sibling relationship and how it is affected by parental divorce. The stress of the situation is explored through a survey of adult sibling and how they dealt with the effects of parental divorce.

The study suggested that positive sibling relationships have the potential to help children and adolescents both cope with and adjust to parental divorce by acting as a source of comfort, stability, and support in times of familial stress and change. In addition, the study’s findings suggest that separatism, parental favoritism, and a lack of parental communication/support during parental divorce can negatively affect the sibling relationship, thus undermining the adjustment of their children to their new situation.

The study suggested that generalizing feelings and applying them as a social norm does not portray a clear and accurate picture and undermines the individual situation, as a whole. The study also details the benefits of parents enlisting professional and medical assistance in helping forge those bonds among siblings who have experienced a parental divorce.

The survey

Some studies have begun to examine the future effects on marriages, when an individual has siblings. Researchers Joseph Merry, Donna Bobbiutt-Zeher, and Douglas B. Downey surveyed 57,000 adults between 1972 and 2012, as a part of the General Social Survey and found that only 4 percent of those adults had grown up without any siblings. Additionally, of the 80 percent that had gotten married at some point, 36 percent of them also had experienced a divorce.

For those that had gotten married, each additional sibling an individual had been associated with a 2 percent decline in their odds of having been divorced. Individuals without siblings were not only less likely to marry than those with siblings, but they also were more likely to have divorced.

The aftermath

The numbers suggest that the more siblings that you have, the more opportunity that you have to lean on someone in your time of need during development moments in your life. Parental divorce can be a traumatic life event for children, and no matter what stage of development they are at, their lives will never be the same. Their reality has changed, which is why it makes sense for them to lean on people who are going through the same, at the very least, a similar emotional rollercoaster.

As a parent, it’s important to keep an eye on the similarities and differences in how your children process their new situation and their new realities. It can be beneficial to come up with individual strategies to help each individual child with the transition. The emotional complexity of the way each child processes divorce cannot be predicted, but catering to their needs, as they battle with the uncertainty of reality, will help put each back on track in the long run.

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