Forget about climate change: Forty years ago the social equivalent of it hit Canada. It was not a tsunami, something that crashes to the shore and destroys everything in sight all at once, but rather more like the slow and gradual creep of rising temperatures or tides. The problem? Canada’s divorce rate multiplied five times from the end of the 1960s to the mid-1980s.1 “No-fault divorce,” enacted in Canada in 1968 meant couples could divorce for reasons outside of infidelity and apparently, many jumped to take advantage of the newfound freedom. Statistics tell us that in 1998 36,252 children witnessed their parents divorce;2 some estimate today that almost half of divorces in Canada involve children.3 That’s a large group of kids, hit with a social phenomenon that has brought many a family into counselling but at the same time, is now so common that few blink an eye. Should we? What is the emotional or mental toll of divorce on kids? In Canada we have little idea for the simple reason we have chosen not to research it.
The effects of divorce on children’s mental and emotional health sounds like a reasonable avenue of study. But in Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scholar willing to take some data sets and extract meaningful analysis about the emotional effects of divorce on children. The Canadian government has collected some data, including the National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth, but does not draw any conclusions about emotional effects from it. Other analyses reflect the economics of divorce, domestic violence in the home and child support. This lack of movement on the marriage issue stands in stark opposition to the situation just south of the border where marriage, divorce and kids are the substance of study, research, and even personal reflections. In short, it is valid to ask whether Canadian social scientists are failing a generation of kids, some of whom are now adults, who were affected by divorce. When Canadian kids of divorce have questions about emotional turmoil and short- or long-term effects, they’ll need to prepare themselves for a protracted silence.
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