This time of year brings back searing memories of the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and its call to arms and the resultant 2,688 Israeli casualties. In Israel, the impact was particularly poignant as the aftermath realization hit of the physical and emotional toll and the number of children who would grow up in fatherless homes, and most of all, our young heroic soldiers who would never have a chance to be under a chupah and create families of their own. The politicians and analysts can debate and assess blame for the lack of preparedness for the war as the Agranat Commission findings revealed. However, there is little doubt that each Yom Kippur brings an additional prayer for peace and for the welfare of our families and especially for our next generation – our children.
There is a different battle that has also impacted our children – and it is battle caused by divorce.
In my newly published The Case for Marriage Education, a section is devoted to documenting the impact of divorce on children.
- Emotional and physical problems for both adults and children
- School problems for children
- Negative communication and mismanaged conflict (which are the major roots of marital distress and divorce)
There is no doubt that children are being affected by the sudden change in their familial environment as well as by additional influences that accompany the divorce process. It is well recognized that the divorce process affects the mental state of the children, including development of behavioral problems, negative self-concept, social problems and difficulties in relationships with the parents. Among these children there is a higher frequency of depression, violence, learning and social deterioration, and high risk for suicidal attempts. Research in recent years had shown that the divorce process also increases rates of physical illness in children.
A study on longevity conducted by Friedman and Martin revealed that the long-term effects of divorce on children are so great that they influence lifespan:
- Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier than those from intact families
- The single strongest social predictor of early death was facing parent divorce during childhood
- Parental divorce is strongly linked to death from all causes, including accidents, cancers, and cardiovascular disease
- Boys whose parents’ divorce are at greater risk of dying from accidents and violence, since they grow up to be more reckless
- Children from divorced homes are more likely to smoke and drink as adults
- An otherwise positive family environment does not cancel out the detrimental effects of divorce
According to W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in the United States:
“Children in married-parent families are more likely to graduate from high school, earn a college degree, and get a good job as adults than children from single-parent families.”
Studies show that not only does divorce affect the school performance of children, it hits at the core of their self-esteem. In many cases the children feel responsible for the divorce, as arguments tend to center on child-related issues. Self-esteem is also affected when children are the pawns in bitter custody battles.
In my closing remarks at the Knesset Seminar on Pre-Marriage Education, I quoted my Chabad Lubavitch spiritual mentor Rabbi Dr. Laibl Wolf, Dean, Spiritgrow- Josef Kryss Center:
“Terrorism, antisocial behavior, family break-ups – all these are due to one underlying reason: poor family modelling to our children. To love your children you must demonstrate that love openly – spending quality time with them, acknowledging and complimenting them, and making them feel important and significant. And most importantly, teach them positive values that we Jewish people gave to the world. And the best way to teach these values is to live by them and speak about them openly.”
The vision of my non profit Together in Happiness/B’Yachad B’Osher is to establish a national movement for marriage education in Israel, in order to strengthen the foundation of Israeli society at large. It is vital that couples participate in marriage communication workshops that give them the tools to prevent the escalation of future marital conflict. This will lead to healthy, lasting relationships among married couples and children who will grow up in households with two parents thereby preserving the traditions of our people in a loving and supporting and nurturing environment.
On this Yom Kippur, let us take a pause to think about how we can take preventative steps to solidify and ensure shalom in our homes. The Yom Kippur War extracted such a physical and emotional toll that we will never forget. Our response must be to make the preservation of our internal security within the home our highest priority.
Perhaps a good start for all of us is to encourage families to spend one meaningful time together each week – e.g. Friday night at the Shabbat table, and to teach young couples and couples to be of the very important bonding capacity that spending a Shabbat meal together with candles lit, and its impact on the household.
Together we can build our future one family at a time!
Wishing you a Gmar Chatima Tova. Please forgive me if I have stated anything offensive in this blog.
 Howard S. Friedman & Leslie R. Martin (2011). The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. NY: Hudson Street Press.