FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Cost of Divorce on Children

with Steve Grissom | July 14, 2006
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Children are often the silent victims during a divorce. On the broadcast today, DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom talks with Dennis Rainey about the effects divorce has on children.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Children are often the silent victims during a divorce. On the broadcast today, DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom talks with Dennis Rainey about the effects divorce has on children.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

DivorceCare founder Steve Grissom talks about the effects divorce has on children.

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The Cost of Divorce on Children

With Steve Grissom
July 14, 2006
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Bob: What is the impact of divorce on children?  Here is Dennis Rainey.

Dennis: I found a piece of information that Carvel Ice Cream Bakery, which is located on the East Coast asked about 1,500 people when they blow out their candles what they wished for, you know, on the birthday cake when they blow them out – 75 percent of the children with divorced parents wished for their parents to be reconciled.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 14th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   What can you do to turn around a marriage that is headed toward divorce?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  We are talking this week about the issue of divorce and its impact on marriages and families and people's emotional health and children and all of these issues and, Dennis, we've received a whole lot of phone calls this week from listeners who have been contacting us to get more information about the upcoming fall season of the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  Between now and the end of July, we are giving our listeners an opportunity to register for one of these upcoming conferences at a special rate – a FamilyLife Today listener rate.  This is our group rate that we make available to church groups, but we're making it available to FamilyLife Today listeners this month without you needed to form a group. 

 You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you register before the end of July and if you let us know that you're a FamilyLife Today listener.  You can do that by calling 1-800-FLTODAY, finding out when the conference is coming to a city near where you live, making plans to attend, and then mentioning you're a FamilyLife Today listener.  We'll get you registered, and you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee or go online to register at  There is information there about all of the upcoming conferences, where they're being held, which are the different weekends this fall, and you can register online as well. 

 If you're filling out the online registration form, when you get to the keycode box just type in my name, "Bob," and that way we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener.  They call this "Bob's Special Rate" for FamilyLife Today listeners, and we'll get you registered at the savings of $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 Again, this offer is good through the month of July but go ahead and go online now or call 1-800-FLTODAY, get your questions asked and get registered so that you can be a part of one of these upcoming Marriage Conferences.  And, you know, I think it is appropriate for us to offer this special rate to listeners this week considering the subject we've been discussing, and we want to focus today on the folks who may be the forgotten victims of divorce, that's the children.

Dennis: You know, I wrote about this in my book, "One Home at a Time," just trying to get our arms around the devastating impact that divorce has on children.  I wrote in the book, "What makes a child four times more likely to commit a violent crime?  What increases the likelihood of a child living in poverty, dropping out of school and becoming a juvenile delinquent?  What increases the probability of a child abusing alcohol, taking drugs, becoming sexually promiscuous and committing suicide?  What creates fear, insecurity, and a higher likelihood that their marriages will not last a lifetime?  It's divorce, divorce, divorce, and divorce is killing both American and the church.

 And, you know, Bob, I got a letter the other day that was sent to me by a listener, and it's entitled "Divorce From a Kid's Point of View," and it's a letter from a 13-year-old girl who writes about her parents' divorce.  She writes, "Dear Fathers, If you are a father thinking about leaving your family, I don't believe you truly know in your heart what your child is going through.  I may seem to be a normal 13-year-old girl.  I smile on the outside and show a positive attitude, but inside I'm crying out so loud for a normal family life.  You see, my father left my mom and me when I was 18 months old.  Oh, sure, he probably thought I was too young for the divorce to affect me but, oh, how he was wrong.

 What happened to the commitment and the promise that he made to my mom?  Will he ever realize that has scarred me for life?  I've sat in restaurants for the last 10 years staring at the complete families around us, wondering what it would be like to have a father at home, to have a father kiss me goodnight and listen to my prayers.  A father to be there at my volleyball games, to look at my report cards, meet my teachers, or maybe even tell me, "I love you." 

 Doesn't my dad know how much he has hurt me?  If God gave me one wish and one wish only, I would wish for my father to watch me grow up.  He wasn't there when I had my birthdays; he wasn't there for my school events or for my Girl Scout awards programs.  He never met any of my teachers and never saw a report card.  My father got what he wanted.  He couldn't face the responsibility of me.  He got his freedom.  What he doesn't realize is that he has lost his little girl."

 Boy, that's a tough piece to read, and I can only imagine what it would be like to hear if I was a father who was divorced, and all this week on the broadcast what we've been attempting to do is paint the picture of what divorce is like so that we could equip men and women to do battle on behalf of their friends' marriages, their friends' families.

Bob: And, you know, in doing that, Dennis, we have undoubtedly found some folks who are divorced, maybe some folks who are in a second marriage, and they have felt like we've been taking aim at them, and it's not been our desire …

Dennis: … no, it hasn't …

Bob: … to want to inflict any additional pain or wounds on those folks who are attempting today to walk right with God.  But we've got to hold up a standard in the culture.

Dennis: Yes, and I want our listeners to know that we're not wanting to further punish those who are already beating up on themselves or create further shame.  That is not the purpose of this, but I want you to hear me, and hear me well – the reason we're doing these broadcasts is somebody has got to tell the truth about what divorce is doing to people, what it's doing to the culture, to churches, to families, and on today's broadcast we want to talk about what it does to children.

 I'm excited that Steve Grissom has joined us here all week and, Steve, it's been a privilege to have you on the broadcast.  I really do appreciate you and the work of your organization, Church Initiative and Divorce Care – all the many things you are doing of caring for people, and before we came on the air just a few moments ago you said you could spend a week on this subject of how divorce impacts children.  Why is that the case?

Steve: Because the impact is so traumatic on kids.  It's beyond anything you or I can imagine.

Bob: But we've always heard, Steve, kids are resilient, they bounce back, sure, it will be hard for them initially, but they'll cope, they'll get along.  I mean, look around, there are hundreds of kids from divorced families.  They're adjusting okay, right?

Steve: I can say unequivocally, based on research, that all children are significantly harmed by divorce.  Some of them immediately, others suffer what we call the "time bomb" effect.  It really doesn't manifest until later in their life, say, their early 20s, their relationships.  And so don't buy that lie.  Children are resilient in some respects, but they will be hurt by divorce.

 Let me paint just one picture that so graphically illustrates this.  Think back again to your own childhood.  Imagine that your mom or dad divorces, and you go with one of them, and a few months later another person enters their life and, all of a sudden, they're snuggly, kissy, affectionate.  Maybe your mom or dad hadn't been affectionate to each other, but, all of a sudden, you're seeing this.  How would you react?  What in the world would you feel seeing this happen in front of you?  And that's what kids are dealing with today.  And that's only one of the many issues.

Bob: You know, Steve, some kids are in homes where there's a lot of tension, there's a lot of anger, there maybe daily, nightly shouting matches between a mom and a dad, conflict is rampant, a mom watches her son or her daughter dissolve into tears on a regular basis in the midst of this kind of conflict.  You can see where a mom would think it would be better off if my child was not experiencing this kind of conflict and tension on a daily basis.  We'll be better off alone than we would be with the presence of all of this tension.

Steve: What you have just described, Bob, is probably one of the biggest rationalizations behind divorce.  "We’re going to do it for the kids.  They'll be better off if they're not around this conflict."  And the results are in, the research is in, that's just a wrong conclusion; that, in fact, kids are better off in a bad marriage than they are if you divorce.

Dennis: Now, I'm going to stop you there, because some of our listeners are saying, "Wait a second.  Can you back up that statement?"

Steve: Absolutely, absolutely.  The research shows – secular research – Judith Wallerstein is often quoted in her book, "Second Chances," is an excellent source of information on this subject, and we could bury you in information.  But it's out there, and kids who suffer through the fighting of their parents still have parents, they still have role models, they still have a dad, they still have a mom, and when divorce happens, all of that falls apart.

Bob: Now, Dennis, those kids would be better off in a home where parents knew how to deal with conflict, how to resolve conflict, but to think they'd be better off simply with the absence of one parent and the absence of conflict, that's where Steve is saying the kids aren't going to wind up better off.

Dennis: Yes, and they're not better off.  In fact, let me quote who he mentioned – Judith Wallerstein, in a statement she made just about how devastating divorce is on a young person.  She writes, "I expected that most adults would say that divorce was a closed book; that for children it would be ancient history.  I did not expect the experience to endure so fully for so many with high drama, passions, vivid memories, fantasy relationships, jagged breaks in development, intense anger, and profound discrepancies in quality of life nor did I anticipate the problems that so many young people would encounter upon entering young adulthood.  Although I thought I was being realistic, nothing prepared me for what I found."

 And what happened was, when she came out with her findings, she was rejected by the other researchers and sociologists because what she was saying was not what they wanted to hear.  The culture wanted her to say that it's okay; that we can make our own choices, and it doesn't impact our children.  But, quite to the contrary, our children do pay a price.  When parents go through a divorce, the children blame themselves.

Bob: Well, Dennis, kids think the world revolves around them in the first place – a normal, healthy kid thinks, "I'm at the center of the universe and everything is done around me."  So if Mom and Dad split up, that's where a child who developmentally is still immature, is going to think, "It must be me because the world revolves around me."

Dennis: Yes, they're not going to rationally think, "Well, you know, Dad brought into the marriage some dysfunction and baggage from his family, and Mom, well, she'd experienced this when she was growing up and had these hard knocks as a young adult."  They can't piece that together.

 Children will also really do battle on behalf of their parents' marriage, won't they?

Steve: They will – even after it's clear the marriage is over, maybe even a remarriage has occurred, they will hope for – I've heard kids tell me, "I prayed every night that Daddy and Mommy would get back together again."  They will continually see that family coming back together even when the adults have long since written that family, as a unit, off.

Bob: I have to say something here about Hollywood.  The former head of NBC Entertainment, a guy by the name of Brandon Tartikoff, quit NBC and went to work for Paramount.  One of the things he said was we're going to make more family-friendly movies.  The first movie he came out with was a movie called "All I Want for Christmas," and the story was about a young boy and his sister, and all they wanted for Christmas was for Mom and Dad to get back together again.  It's a touching movie, but it's a movie that got panned by Hollywood. 

 In fact, I remember reading a review that said, "It sends children an unrealistic message that you can somehow get your parents back together again.  We'd be better off if we just sent them the truth that Mom and Dad aren't getting back together again, and you need to get on with your life."  And it wasn't a couple of years later when Robin Williams made the movie, "Mrs. Doubtfire," and I read in an interview with him that a part of what he wanted to communicate in that movie was that sometimes divorce happens but everybody is okay when it's all over, and we all live happily ever after.

Dennis: Well, that's one of the last lines in the movie – "Sometimes things don't work out."  You can't sweep a child under the rug.  I mean, you took upon yourself the commitment and the responsibility to become one flesh with another person, and the product of that one flesh is called a child, and you've got some responsibility, and you can't just walk away from that responsibility and not think that your choices aren't going to have an impact there.  They do have an impact.  In fact, you teach, through your material, Steve, that the impact really is irrevocable.

Steve: It is completely irrevocable once it happens.  Sometimes it doesn't show up for a while, but all children are harmed by divorce and all children are unique and special, and they show it in different ways, and it comes at different times, but some children, it hits them very young, and it shows up in school.  I have a friend who is a school principal who tells some horror stories about kids struggling with divorce – throwing chairs and being withdrawn and teenagers have a difficult time coping with divorce, especially when they've become a part of a blended family, and they get into all sorts of issues related to trying to put two families together.

 And then adult children of divorce often develop relationship problems.  They go into a marriage or a relationship and crash and burn because of the role model they had.  Think of the lessons we teach our kids through divorce.  We teach breaking of a covenant, not keeping your promise.  We often show them lying, we often show anger, conflict.  Very seldom do we model principles of godliness.  Now, there are godly parents who are trying to hang onto a marriage and kids maybe can't sort it out right away but eventually they'll see that.  But we teach so many negative lessons that become ingrained in that child's life, and they will live that same way because that's the modeling they've seen.

Dennis: You know, the Gospel is a Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation.  God stepping out of eternity, taking the form of a man who died on the cross so that we might know the forgiveness of God.  Our sins might be totally washed away, and it might be said it has been paid for.  The penalty has been covered by Christ, and He came to reconcile us back to a God.

Bob: While we were still his enemies.

Dennis: That's right, and he can reconcile two enemies in a marriage relationship, too.  Jesus Christ's grave is empty.  The same power that raised Him from the dead can raise that marriage from the dead.  He can take a couple, and He can put them back together if they are willing to be obedient and forgive one another; if they are willing to take steps of reconciliation and begin, third, I think, to learn what His plan is for a marriage relationship.  And, you know, you've to know this book, you've got to know it.

 You know, all this week we have been talking about divorce, and we've been talking about Malachi, chapter 2, verse 16, where it says, "For I hate divorce."  God said that.  He didn't say that he hated divorcees, He didn't say He hated the people who had gotten a divorce, He said He hated the act of divorce, and the reason is verse 15 says, "And He was seeking a godly offspring."  I think that godly offspring is tied to our marriage covenant.  God hates divorce, and the reason He hates it is because He is desirous of impacting future generations through your marriage, through your family, and one of the central components of a family, of a church, and of a civilization, a culture, are individual husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who keep the most solemn pledge you ever make with another person.  That's your marriage covenant.  If you can keep that covenant, if you can honor God with that covenant, then you have no idea what will happen for generations to come.

Bob: You know, Dennis, we have, this week, been hoping to equip our listeners to step into the lives of other couples who might be experiencing crisis in their marriage, giving them the facts, being able to say, "Here is what lies ahead on the road to divorce.  It is littered, it's clutter with debris, and it's not the path that it looks like from where you are."

Dennis: And it's not been very pretty, and this has not been easy to do, and we have been known as a ministry that speaks the truth.  And if we're going to rescue the family, we can't pretend that all is well.  Divorce is a plague in the church.  The divorce rate in the church is actually higher than it is outside the church.  If we were called to be the salt and light, how can we have a higher incidence of this plague in our midst than in the culture?  How are we going to redeem the culture?  The answer is we're not.

Bob: You know, the folks who are in a hurting marriage, Dennis, are really struggling with two things.  There is the loss of hope, they really don't believe there is any hope left for their marriage, and that's because everything they know to do, everything they've tried, hasn't worked, and they don't think there are any tools left anywhere, any equipping left that can help them.  And FamilyLife exists to say there are resources available, whether it's the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference, the DVD series that Steve and his team have put together, "Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce."  You can find help for your marriage, and when you find some of the tools that have been missing, that's what brings hope back to your relationship.

 This month, as you know, Dennis, we're encouraging our listeners to register for one of the upcoming fall Weekend to Remember conferences, and we're doing that with a special offer.  We are making the group rate available to FamilyLife Today listeners without you needing to form a group.  You will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you register during the month of July.  You go to our website,, you will find a listing of where the conferences being held this fall, which cities it's going to be in and on what weekends, and you can register online, if you'd like.  If you're filling out the registration form, when you get to the keycode box, type in my name, "Bob," and that way we know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you're eligible for the discounted rate.  Again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee. 

 You can also register over the phone.  You call 1-800-FLTODAY, mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today.  We can answer any questions you might have about the event or the dates or the locations, and we can get you registered over the phone as well.  And, again, as long as we hear from you by the end of July, and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you will save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee.

 Our website is  Our toll-free number, 1-800-FLTODAY.  When you get in touch with us, ask for more information about the DVD series we've been talking about this week with Steve Grissom.  It's called "Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce," it would be a great contribution to your church library.  You may want to secure a copy to send to a couple you know who is headed in the direction of a divorce.  The DVD series, again, is entitled "Choosing Wisely Before You Divorce," and there is more information available on our website at or you can call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Dennis?

Dennis: Well, I want to thank our guest who has been with us all this week, talking with us about how to prevent divorce and equip folks to stay out of the divorce courts and keep their marriages together.  Steve Grissom, you've been an encouragement to all of us, and I thank you for your courage and for just your own willingness to turn heartache into personal triumph.  Thanks for being with us.

Steve: Thanks for having me.

Dennis: Is there one last word you'd have for our listeners, maybe for some who have already experienced divorce?

Steve: You know, we have been purposefully direct and blunt and pretty graphic this week, but I've got to talk to the person who has been through a divorce, maybe wants to get back together but can't, or maybe is the instigator of divorce and can't get the marriage back together – remember, that ours is a loving, forgiving, restorative God; that if you turn to God, He will rebuild your life whatever your circumstances.  If you sinned in getting a divorce, He can forgive that.  If you are the recipient of a divorce you didn't want, He can rebuild your life.  He rebuilt mine and has blessed it immeasurably since then.  And so there is hope, and what we've said this week is stark, but there is hope no matter what your circumstances.

Dennis: Yes, and I want to close today's broadcast with a word of prayer here.  Father, I do pray for those that Steve was talking to just now, for those who have experienced the devastation of divorce.  May Your Spirit work in their soul healing; bring about wholeness.  And, Father, for those who are listening whose marriages are strong and healthy, I pray for courage for them – courage to step in the lives of their friends, their family members and rescue that perishing marriage, that family that's about to dissolve.  Give them the courage to look beyond what men may think; what men may say, and to speak the truth in love.  And I pray that somehow these broadcasts have encouraged them and equipped them to be able to do that with wisdom, with skill, and with the knowledge of Your Word.  We love You and give thanks in Christ's name, amen.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a listener-supported production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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