According to the Los Angeles Times, psychologist Judith Wallerstein, “the godmother of the backlash against divorce,” has recently passed.  Wallerstein became famous back in the 70’s when Marin County (California) preschool teachers asked her how to deal with a rash of children who couldn’t sleep, cried constantly or were too aggressive with playmates.

The common denominator, according to the teachers, was that the children’s parents were divorcing.  Wallerstein searched for research on the issue, but found none.  So she decided to conduct here own.  She launched what would become a 25-year investigation, producing alarming findings that made the long-married grandmother of five a polarizing figure in a contentious national debate.

When Wallerstein began looking at the impact of divorce, she thought the children’s difficulties would be fleeting.  Instead, she found that for half of the 131 children she studied, time did not heal their wounds but allowed them to fester, creating “worried, under-achieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women” who struggled with relationships.  In light of this delayed effect, Wallerstein determined that if parents could swallow their misery, they should stay together for their kids.

Family values proponents embraced Wallerstein’s research, but detractors said her sample was too small, lacked a control group for comparison and was slanted toward families with psychological problems that preceded the divorce.  Despite the caveat that Wallerstein’s findings apply mainly to troubled families going through divorce, her work still remains influential today.

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