Parents spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to figure out what to give their children for Christmas or birthdays. With Xbox, Bratz dolls, and digital camera cell phones all the rage these days, we often overlook giving children what they deeply want and need the most.

One of the best gifts we can give our children is a mother and father that love each other. Parents who maintain a strong and vibrant marriage set a positive example of the inevitable ups and downs of marriage, while also showing that problems can be worked through. This creates a haven of security and well-being from which children can flourish.

In the Proclamation on the Family it states, “Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother…” [1] President Howard W. Hunter gave this counsel to husbands that also applies to wives, “One of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” [2] President Boyd K. Packer also taught, “The safest place and the best protection against the moral and spiritual diseases is a stable home and family. This has always been true; it will be true forever.” [3]

What Research Validates about the Effects of Divorce

Few of us need to read the research to know that marriage matters to children. Most children of divorce struggle with some aspect of their parents not being together anymore, which generally spills into other areas of their life. To solidify our understanding of the effects of divorce, here are a few of the reasons why the best chance children have to thrive is for their parents to work through their difficulties and maintain a loving relationship:

  • Divorce sows lasting inner conflict in children’s lives even when their parents did not fight. [4]
  • Children of divorce are forced to grow up too fast. [5]
  • Already hurt by their parents’ lack of commitment, children of divorce bring the baggage of brittle emotions and insecurity with them into their marriages, making it more likely that they themselves will divorce. [6]
  • Even after divorce, children still need to make sense of their personal identity, which is now connected to two disconnected people. The continuing responsibility to travel between and make sense of two increasingly different adult worlds is no small task for a child. [7]
  • Children often lose contact with their fathers. [8]
  • Children of divorce feel less protected by parents, and often feel that they must protect their mothers emotionally. They often have to concern themselves with their parents’ thoughts, feelings and moods, and adjust their behavior accordingly. They are also much less likely to go to their parents for comfort when they are young, or for emotional support when they are older. [9]
  • Even after divorces in low-conflict marriages children struggle with a range of symptoms—anxiety, depression, problems in school—that they did not previously have. For children, unaware of the waxing and waning cycles of adult unhappiness, divorce is a massive blow that comes out of nowhere. [10]
  • Even though adult children of divorce often appear well?adjusted and successful, their childhoods were profoundly scarred by their parents’ breakup. Children of divorce learn to:
    • Worry about child abuse, sexual abuse and parental kidnapping.
    • Worry about their “stuff,” because it is often lost in the constant traveling.
    • Wonder about religion and God, owing to the mixed messages they receive from their parents.
    • Become a keeper of secrets, especially those of their parents.
    • Handle a parent’s subsequent remarriage and/or divorces.
    • Deal with the ever?changing rosters of parental lovers, relatives, stepparents and stepsiblings. [11]

To counterbalance the negative effects of divorce, research also identifies many benefits of a strong marriage in the lives of children:

  • Levels of parental involvement, supervision, monitoring, and closeness are higher in two?biological?married?parent families. [12]
  • Marriage provides attachment of fathers to children and protects adolescents from the scourges of addiction, suicide, teen pregnancy, and crime. [13]
  • Matrimony also offers increased economic well-being and protection. [14]
  • Living with two happily married parents is the best shot a kid has for a successful launch in life. [15]

What Kids Have to Say about Divorce

Though the research is astounding regarding the effects of divorce in the lives of children, it is even more interesting to see what children themselves have to say. I spoke with a variety of children and teenagers (ages 6 – 16) to get their “expert” opinion on the matter. When asked to rate on a scale of 1 – 10 how important the parents’ marriage is in the lives’ of children, these young people responded with “10 plus!” “10 or 11,” “10 — without a doubt!”

When asked why marriage was so important to kids, one teenage girl said that kids need both parents around, so that they can regularly interact and relate to both a mother and a father to learn their differing perspectives and teachings. Another young woman said that having a mother and father provides a more stable and secure environment. She said it helps children to grow up being more confident and self-assured. She shared how some of her friends from broken homes had a harder time “finding themselves,” and felt no hope for marriage. One of her friends told her that if her parents couldn’t make it work, then there was no way she could.

An eight-year-old girl said the saddest part about divorce for children is that they’d miss the other parent. She also said “sometimes one parent might know more good things for the kids than the other one does.” A young boy said that divorced parents wouldn’t have as much time to play with them, so the kids wouldn’t feel as loved anymore.

The young men I spoke to could also see the value of having both parents around. One insightful 15-year-old said that kids need the support of both parents, especially to help them through the tough times in a teenager’s life. He felt that kids from broken homes seemed to struggle more with self-confidence, and didn’t know how to communicate as effectively with friends and adults. When asked about this observation he said he suspected that the kids had not learned good communication or conflict-resolution skills because they hadn’t had that example in the home. He thought that those kids might not feel as safe to share their feelings as frequently with their parents, and wouldn’t have the in-home practice to work through their difficult problems and feelings.

Another young adult I spoke with felt that having parents with a good marriage helped kids learn how to recreate a good marriage themselves in the future. One friend of his had parents who divorced when he was 18 years old. He said it shook his whole foundation, and especially his confidence in marriage. He began to question many things, and hesitated to enter into serious relationships. The friend had once expressed his sadness, grief and confusion that plagued him even after many years. Life appeared to be a lot harder for his friend than for others.

Those I interviewed also had many good suggestions for what parents could do to build a strong marriage, so that parents would be less likely to divorce. The most frequent response was for parents to spend more time together doing stuff like date night or even just going to sporting events of their kids’.


One teenager said a date night was especially important, so that parents could “be alone and forget about all the other stuff!” A few of them said parents should talk to each other more, especially to discuss what they could each do to make their marriage better. One insightful little guy simply said parents should “be nice to each other!”

What Parents Can Do to Strengthen Their Marriages

It may seem more merciful to downplay the seriousness of divorce, telling ourselves that most children seem to be “adjusting well” to the situation, so all is well. Research does show that most children of divorce don’t necessarily become depressed, sexually active, high school dropouts who turn to a life of crime, but neither do children come through divorce unscathed. [16]

Certainly no one wants to add to the heartache and heavy burden that single parents already carry. And none of us know God’s plan for one’s earthly education, making it impossible for anyone to accurately judge the rightness or wrongness of another’s experiences. But with a tender heart toward those who have tasted the bitterness of divorce, the most loving thing we can do, not only for husbands and wives, but also for their children, is to help all parents understand how to prevent divorce in the first place.

Parents don’t set out to destroy their marriage or damage their children through divorce. But there comes a point where parents no longer see any hope for happiness in their relationship. At that point of resignation little thought is given to the effects of divorce on children. Thus, the dire statistics and disheartening research do little to persuade parents to stay unhappily married.

Below are some thoughts and suggestions for parents who want to stay married “for the sake of the children,” but who also want to find happiness themselves:

(1) Develop a clear understanding of the true nature of marriage.  Couples need to know that all marriages will experience inevitable and important conflicts that can be resolved, but not without soul-expanding personal growth. The divine designs for marriage require both husband and wife to experience and endure the refiner’s fire that occurs within the intimate interactions of a marital relationship. One’s willingness to withstand the pain of personal growth is the necessary component for successfully scaling the mountainous climbs of marriage to achieve the ultimate state of oneness in marriage.

In the midst of marital discord it is helpful to know that most marriages that work through their challenges find happiness on the other side. More than 60 percent of divorced couples also say they wish they had worked harder to save their marriage. [17]

(2) Give your marriage priority time and attention.  Healthy and happy marriages don’t happen automatically. They require regular helpings of mental, emotional, spiritual and sexual nourishment in order to thrive. The importance of marriage gets a lot of lip service, but it’s the action that really counts. We may say our marriage is a priority, but without dedicating our time and attention to it, we are really only kidding ourselves.

How many hours in a week do you spend doing those things that make your spouse feel loved and appreciated? Do you even know what those things are? Some examples could include phone calls, hello or good-bye hugs and kisses, conversations, date nights, time spent being intimate, or any other behavior that is important to your spouse.

To make your marriage a priority means giving priority time and attention to your spouse — not left over time and attention. It may require choosing something to eliminate or adjust in your life in order to make room for your spouse. Is there one volunteer opportunity to which you could say no? Is there one television program you could turn off? Could you find a way to come home earlier from work one day a week? Can you adjust your finances to make room for a weekly date night? What do you need to do to make your spouse feel that they are a priority?

Giving your marriage priority time and attention pays big dividends not only for you and your spouse, but also for your children. It increases your personal happiness, and reduces the likelihood of your children experiencing the pain of divorce.

(3) Become a marriage expert.  In the book The Secrets of Happily Married Men by Scott Haltzman, M.D., the author suggests the idea of making marriage one’s job or profession. What kind of time and effort went into your education and training to become a doctor or accountant or schoolteacher? How can you apply that same effort to increase your knowledge and improve upon or gain new relationship skills? When a strong marriage is seen as a valued endeavor, any reluctance to invest oneself in gaining additional abilities will diminish.

Learn and do those things that make marriages strong and mutually fulfilling. Follow the advice of one of the young adults I interviewed who said the best way to build a strong marriage is to ask each other how to do so. One marriage class presenter suggested that if you’d like to have a revelation about your marriage, go home and ask your spouse how you could be a better husband or wife. They will be happy to help you become a marriage expert!

Other ways to develop marriage expertise are to read books and articles, and attend or listen to marriage classes and seminars. Whether you participate in the Sunday school Marriage and Family Relations course, or attend marriage education classes at BYU Education Week, you will be gaining valuable knowledge and skills for your marriage. Success in marriage begets success. Doing a few things right inspires you to want to learn and do more things right!

(4) Assume the role of marriage educator.  Children learn about marriage from their parents — through word and deed — whether we like it or not. Directly and indirectly, parents educate their children on all kinds of things about marriage — communication, commitment, problem solving, and even marital intimacy.

I recall a member of a bishopric talking to the parents prior to a standards night discussion they would be having with the youth. His poignant remarks hit the heart of every parent. He reminded us that youth look to their parents’ example when they are taught about waiting until marriage to share physical intimacies. He suggested that children look at the state of our marriages and say, “If that’s all I have to look forward to, then no thank you!”

With the mindset of a marriage educator, parents can more actively teach and be attentive to the example they set for their children. What we learn, with the intent to teach others, we learn more effectively. Sitting through a marriage seminar will take on whole new meaning when you realize you will be passing the information and skills on to your children either directly or indirectly.

What are your children learning from you about marriage? Do they know how to successfully resolve differences and difficulties? Do they see you being tender and affectionate with each other, and having fun together? Have they seen you hold your tongue when they knew you were upset? Have they seen you hang in there and work through the tough times, so that they will know it’s possible, and be able to do the same within their own marriage? Do your kids know from your example how husbands and wives can be best friends?

The kind and quality of marriage your children can expect is based on the kind and quality of marriage they observe and learn from you.


We need to do all we can to provide a glowing example of the joy and divinity of marriage. There is always a need for additional examples of how good marriage can be.

Your children need to see your example of a strong and vibrant marriage, but so do the many others who may not have an example to follow. One young man told his parents that his friends always hung around their house, because they wanted to be where there was a mom and a dad who both seemed to like each other and who got along!

Truly one of the best gifts you can give your children is the security and well-being that comes from having a father and mother who love each other.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura M. Brotherson, CFLE, is a marriage and family life educator certified by the National Council on Family Relations, and is the author of a bestselling book on physical intimacy and marital ONEness entitled, And They Were Not Ashamed — Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment. Laura also publishes an electronic newsletter entitled, “Straight Talk about Strengthening Marriage.” For more information visit www.StrengtheningMarriage.com. Laura welcomes your comments at Laura@StrengtheningMarriage.com.

[1] “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 102.

[2] Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father,” Ensign, Nov 1994, 49.

[3] “Do Not Fear,” Ensign, May 2004, 79.

[4] See Elizabeth Marquardt, “Just Whom Is This Divorce ‘Good’ For?” Washington Post, Sunday, Nov 6, 2005; B01, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402304.html.

[5] See Elizabeth Marquardt, “Just Whom Is This Divorce ‘Good’ For?” Washington Post, Sunday, Nov 6, 2005; B01, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402304.html.

[6] See Elizabeth Marquardt, “Just Whom Is This Divorce ‘Good’ For?” Washington Post, Sunday, Nov 6, 2005; B01, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402304.html. (See also “The Divorce Cycle: Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages,” Newswise, University of Utah, Jun 27, 2005–this article reviews Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in their Own Marriages, Nicholas H. Wolfinger, Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[7] See Maggie Gallagher, “Divorce Study Breaks New Ground,” Oct 11, 2005. See also Tamar Lewin, “Poll Says Even Quiet Divorces Affect Children’s Paths,” New York Times: Nov 5, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/05/national/05divorce.html.

[8] See Leah Ward Sears, “Valued Marriages Invaluable for All,” The Atlanta Journal?Constitution, December 16, 2005, http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/1205/12edsears.html.

[9] See Tamar Lewin, “Poll Says Even Quiet Divorces Affect Children’s Paths,” New York Times: Nov 5, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/05/national/05divorce.html.

[10] See Elizabeth Marquardt, “Just Whom Is This Divorce ‘Good’ For?” Washington Post, Sunday, Nov 6, 2005; B01, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402304.html.

[11] See Cheryl Wetzstein, “Divorce’s Lasting Effects,” The Washington Times, Sep 27, 2005.

[12] See Stephen Demuth and Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure, Family Processes, and Adolescent Delinquency: The Significance of Parental Absence Versus Parental Gender,” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 41[2004]: 58?81.)

[13] See Michelle Conlin, with Jessi Hempelxi, “Unmarried America,” BusinessWeek Online, Oct 20, 2003; http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_42/b3854001_mz001.htm.

[14] See Michelle Conlin, with Jessi Hempelxi, “Unmarried America,” BusinessWeek Online, Oct 20, 2003; http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_42/b3854001_mz001.htm.

[15] See Michelle Conlin, with Jessi Hempelxi, “Unmarried America,” BusinessWeek Online, Oct 20, 2003; http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/03_42/b3854001_mz001.htm.

[16] See Maggie Gallagher, “Divorce Study Breaks New Ground,” Oct 11, 2005; for a review of recent research visit http://www.imapp.org.

[17] See Maggie Gallagher, “Closing the Divorce Divide,” Nov 30, 2005, See also Smart Marriages e-newsletter 11/30/05.