An astonishing one quarter of adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five have grown up in divorced families. Now, as this generation comes of age, Between Two Worlds will speak to them like no other book.
Elizabeth Marquardt (together with sociologist Norval Glenn) conducted a pioneering new national study of the children of divorce, surveying 1,500 young adults from both divorced and intact families and interviewing more than seventy of them at length. In Between Two Worlds, she weaves the findings of that study together with powerful, unsentimental stories of the childhoods of young people from divorced families–as well as her own story of growing up as a child of divorce. She asks us to acknowledge that children are profoundly shaped by divorce, even though, as adults, they might be accomplished and seem “fine.” While many experts maintain that there are “good divorces,” praise the idea of “blended families,” and assure divorced parents that kids are resilient, Marquardt calls this “happy talk” and warns that it causes children to bury their real feelings.
The hard truth, she says, is that while divorce is sometimes necessary, there is no such thing as a good divorce. An amicable divorce is certainly better than a bitter one, but even amicable divorces sow lasting inner conflict in the lives of children. When a family breaks in two, children who stay in touch with both parents must travel between two worlds, trying alone to reconcile their parents’ often strikingly different beliefs, values, and ways of living. Even a “good divorce” restructures childhood itself.
Not surprisingly, many children of divorce seem like old souls. Often they feel like they have a different identity in each of their parents’ worlds. Secrets are epidemic. Home feels less safe, and they are far less likely than the children of intact marriages to go to their parents for comfort or emotional support. Some question their parents’ morality and choices. Like their peers from intact families, they long for spirituality, but their feelings of loss, mistrust, and anger toward their parents deeply complicate their spiritual journeys–even translating into anger at God.
Marquardt’s data is undeniably compelling, but at the heart of her book are stories–of reunions with one parent that were always partings from the other, of struggles to adapt to a parent’s moods, of the burden of having to figure out the important questions in life alone. Authoritative, beautifully written, and filled with brave, sad, unflinchingly honest voices, Between Two Worlds is a book of transforming power for the adult children of divorce, whose real experiences have for too long gone unrecognized.
Based on a pioneering new study, Between Two Worlds is a book of transforming power for anyone who grew up with divorced parents.
After the divorce, our parents may no longer have been in conflict, but the conflict between their worlds was still alive. Yet instead of being in the open, visible to outsiders, the conflict between their worlds migrated and took root within us. When we sought our own identities–when we asked “Who am I?”–we were confronted with two wholly separate ways of living. Any answer we gleaned from one world could be undermined by looking at the other. Being too much like Dad could threaten the Mom-self inside us, and vice versa. These conflicts were not raised in conversation with or between our parents, or with anybody else, but internally. We were one in our bodies but we did not feel one inside. Even the “good divorce” left us struggling with divided selves. –from Between Two Worlds
Elizabeth Marquardt is an affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan think tank focused on children, families, and civil society. She is the coauthor of a groundbreaking study on college women’s attitudes about sex and dating on campus and has discussed her research on Today, All Things Considered, and numerous other television and radio shows. Her essays and op-ed pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two children.