Critique: “The Effects of Divorce On Children” Video by Focus on the Family

 

This is a critique of the new video, “The Effects of Divorce On Children” from Focus on the Family, featuring Danny Huerta, Tim Sanford, and John Trent  https://youtu.be/qicaUBM1RKE   12/4/2021. For a video version of my critique of "The Effects of Divorce on Children," click HERE.

 

 

 

Summary: As a committed Christian and former donor to Focus on the Family, it pains me to say that Focus on the Family has a view of kids and divorce that isn't based on real scientific research. Their ideology is that divorce is universally destructive to kids. That's not true (see below).  None of their videos or articles on the effects of divorce and children are reliable or accurate, including this one and this one. This particular video contains 12 misleading claims. If you want to know what 30 years of family research have found about the effects of divorce on children, go here: www.lifesavingdivorce.com/abuse-and-kids  Or watch the one-hour video summarizing the key studies. 

 


Let's pretend you are a video producer at Focus on the Family...

 

If you were going to produce a video on the effects of divorce on children you might want to interview someone who was a child psychologist whose practice focused mainly on children of divorce. Or you might look for quotes from the family researchers of the last 30 years who specialized in the outcomes of children after divorce. Or at the very least you might interview someone who divorced many years ago and has raised children in the aftermath and can give some personal insights.

 

But not Focus on the Family! None of the people in this video fit any of these criteria. Not one is a family researcher who has published peer-reviewed studies on the outcomes of children after divorce. And not one of them is a child psychologist who specializes in children and divorce. None of them is a divorced parent. The one person in this discussion who says he has a personal connection with divorce is John Trent whose father abandoned his mother while he was still an infant. He never knew his father until he was nearly graduated from high school. But I'm glad he's here. He’s the only one on this video who shows heartfelt empathy toward kids of divorce.

 

 

12 Errors, Omissions, or Distortions about Children and Divorce

(For a video version of my critique of "The Effects of Divorce on Children," click HERE.)

 

00:51 - Mistake 1. Host Danny Huerta claims there’s a "generational cycle of divorce." But the truth is that most children of divorced parents who marry have lifelong marriages. As of 2018...

  • 60 of 100 kids from two-parent intact homes didn't divorce
  • 53 of 100 kids whose parents divorced didn't divorce

 

So, it’s not a huge difference, at least not anymore. So let's put to bed the idea that there's some sort of curse.

 

Also, Huerta claims the divorce rate is too high. But the truth is that it’s nearly as low as it was 50 years ago.

 

03:43  - Mistake 2. Danny Huerta claims that young children show signs of the “emotional load” of divorce, and fails to mention that it is not just the divorce that puts an “emotional load” on children, it’s the toxic home long before the divorce.

 

Dr. Andrew Cherlin found that the toxicity in the home affects children’s lives and behavior long before a divorce is ever mentioned in the home or ever takes place. Measurable damage is being done in a toxic home, even if you never divorce.

 

04:50 - Mistake 3.  Tim Sanford is right when he blames the tension in the home prior to divorce for some of the child’s issues. Research has found that conflict does indeed cause problems for children. But Sanford treats the tension as the problem when in reality, tension is often a symptom of betrayal in the marriage. Dad may be seeing prostitutes or addicted to porn or lying about his whereabouts. Mom may be cheating, or addicted to prescription drugs or alcohol. Maybe Dad is controlling Mom emotionally or intimidating her physically—or withholding money from her.

 

Kids know right from wrong.  Fear and tension are valid human emotions in these marriages.

    • If your spouse is cheating with a coworker again, you should feel tension.
    • If you’re a wife, and your husband hits you or belittles you, you should feel tension.
    • If you’re a man and your wife is vicious to the children, you should feel tension.
    • If you’re a wife and your husband just spent the rent and grocery money on drugs, gambling, or a new motorcycle, you should feel tension.

 

Tension is a sign of a problem. Yet Sanford falsely claims that “tension between the parents” itself is a form of child abuse and claims that it’s in Colorado child abuse law.

 

It’s not. I'm no expert, but that claim seemed really strange. So I looked up Colorado child abuse law. It wasn't there. So...

 

I wrote to Focus on the Family about this claim. They emailed me back and admitted there’s no Colorado child abuse law about tension. Hey, we all make mistakes. Maybe they should admit Sanford was wrong in the show notes or on the website.

 

04:59 - Mistake 4. Focus on the Family says “God hates divorce,” and doesn’t tell viewers that Jesus and Paul condoned divorce for sexual immorality and abandonment.  Jesus and Paul allowed divorce and there are three places in the Bible where divorce is commanded (for abuse/neglect or spiritual adultery), and only one very specific situation where it is prohibited.

 

05:10 - Mistake 5. These guests make it sound like all marriage problems are merely “messy,” not ever dangerous or destructive.

 

Half of the divorces in the U.S. are for very serious issues: a pattern of sexual immorality, physical violence, chronic emotional abuse, indifference/neglect, or abandonment. And 1 in 4 Christian marriages involve abuse. But Focus videos aren’t clear about discerning between disappointing marriages and these destructive marriages. Their discussions just normalize problems by saying marriage is "messy" or that marriage has a lot of “complexities.” They don’t give examples. So, they leave listeners in confusion. How does a person know if their marriage is merely messy or if it’s abusive and is affecting their life and sanity, and they need to get to safety right now? The guests never say. And yet it is disingenuous for these three men to pretend there aren't any major problems in Christian marriages. Focus on the Family claims they get 50,000 phone calls a year, a significant number from suicidal people whose spouses beat them, abuse the children, or even molest the kids.

 

05:50 - Mistake 6. Using the Focus’s ideology to trap people in abusive marriages. Sanford says parents can get to safety if there is a danger to their children, but remember, at Focus on the Family, the phrase "getting to safety"  does not mean divorce. If you leave, it’s to be temporary: a “therapeutic separation.” They want you to reconcile. They don’t condone divorce for domestic violence EVER, not even for felony-level assault or battery.

How do we know? Just look at their official divorce policy online. Divorce is condoned only for sexual immorality or abandonment. And Focus is serious about this. In their marriage enrichment programs, they have a long history of sweeping abuse under the carpet and sending people back into unsafe marriages. I have more than 200 people in my private Facebook group who've attended multi-day marriage intensive and/or retreats, including Hope Restored, and their marriage did not improve. In Focus's articles and broadcasts, they promote the nearly delusional view that abusers and pedophiles, etc., are likely to change.  Experts put the likelihood at 2% for abusers and less than 1% for pedophiles.

 

(Focus often tells people in crisis marriages to attend their $6,000 marriage intensive program. They use the word "miraculous," but it isn't. They refuse to give proof of their claims.)

 

 

09:10 - Mistake 7. They claim that it’s normal for kids to be angry at the parent who filed for divorce. And they suggest that filing for divorce is breaking your vows, your “promise to stay together.” But 20 years of being a Christian divorce recovery leader in churches has shown me that if children were old enough to understand, they are mostly angry at the parent who is the cheater, drug addict, pedophile, drunk, or the abuser, not the one who divorces to get to safety. In fact, often the kids secretly hope their supportive parent will get away from the abuser. 8 in 10 parents in my Life-Saving Divorce private Facebook group who responded to a survey on this topic said that their children supported divorce as the only viable option in a horrible situation.

If the child is angry just because their nurturing parent filed for divorce, it suggests to me that there might be some spiritual abuse and parental alienation going on initiated by the abuser or cheater.

 

11:05 – Huerta suggests that divorce causes kids to smoke marijuana or drink. But the truth is that binge drinking is more commonly found in toxic two-parent married families than in single-parent families, according to researchers Musick and Meier.

 

In high-conflict married homes, where the parents fight, or destructive behavior causes tension, children have higher likelihood of dropping out of high school, earning poor grades, smoking, binge drinking, early sex, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and divorce. Children raised in these poor-quality married homes are no better off than those brought up in divorced single-parent families. In fact, kids from high-conflict married homes are more likely to binge drink and have poor grades than kids from single parent or step-parent homes.

 

16:20 - Mistake 8. Huerta suggests that a healthy child is one who honors both parents and sees both parents as “broken” (aka, troubled).

 

But in Christian marriages that end in divorce, often one parent is involved in repeated marriage-destroying sins. 

 

Danny Huerta tells an anecdote of a child who is “doing well” in his view…and the evidence of that is that the young man would speak in an honorable and loving way about both parents. That's an interesting measure of how well a young adult is doing, don't you think?  What about the child's fear or anger or grief or anxiety? Aren't those valid ways of determining if a child is doing well?

 

Why must children keep the code of silence? Why must they cover up and conceal the marriage-destroying sins?

 

Suggesting that a young person is healthy only if they speak positively of both parents is a form of spiritual abuse called mutualizing. It's similar to the “two-to-tango” ideology that underpins Focus on the Family and makes their advice unsafe.

 

Huerta describes young man's home as a marriage where the parents “couldn't get along,” suggesting that they are just immature and poor communicators.  But there are no details, no examples given. Maybe there’s a good reason they couldn’t get along. Maybe Dad spends money on prostitutes or child rape porn. Maybe he belittles Mom, no matter how much she sacrifices her dignity to appease him. Or perhaps Mom is manipulative and self-centered to the extreme. Or maybe she drinks, is unreliable, and buys hundreds of dollars of booze each month. We don’t know how serious it is, so we don’t know if it’s appropriate for the child to speak of both parents honorably and lovingly. The Bible doesn't mince words about sexual immorality and swindling and greed and abuse. Maybe it's a sign of "doing well" for the child to tell the truth or say nothing at all.

 

Let’s be honest: maybe both parents are seriously messed up. I get that. I also know that it’s normal for children to love both parents—warts and all.

 

But it seems that Focus on the Family's advice to the young man has a negative result: It protects the bad parent and undercuts the good parent who might need some spiritual, financial, or emotional support right now. The adult child cannot show anger or outrage, or speak of the injustices happening in his family. He must speak in an honorable and loving way in order to suit Focus on the Family's ideology. If you read enough articles at Focus you find that the pressure to forgive and smooth things over is always put on the victimized wife (almost always the woman), while the abuser/betrayer's actions are excused or explained away, and years of damaging sin are minimized and covered up—as long as he (and in Focus on the Family anecdotes, it's almost always a man) goes to counseling a couple of times.

 

Kids aren’t fools. You’ve been teaching them right from wrong from Day One. And half of divorces in the U.S. are for very serious reasons. This video suggests that the child breaks the code of silence is sinning or not adjusting well. But frankly, if the kids are older, they know that one parent was destroying the marriage. They've been living in tension and trauma for a long time.

 

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the child should bad-mouth a parent publicly or seek revenge. I'm not suggesting the child refuses to see the other parent (provided they feel safe). But I am saying children of divorce need a safe place to express and work through their anger, fear, outrage, injuries, and frustration. These are godly emotions as we know from King David's psalms of lament in the Bible.

 

 

17:50 – Mistake 9. The Devil made me do it. Focus on the Family portrays divorce as some “darkness” that comes over the home, completely ignoring the marriage-destroying sins of abuse, betrayal, or addictions committed by one or both spouses. They blame it on Satan wanting divorce. But in reality, Satan loves abusive marriages. He loves bondage to evil.

 

Satan encourages abuse, lies, and violence. Satan wants Christians to stay in a marriage that destroys them and their children. Satan wants Christians to be rendered ineffective for serving the church and spreading the good news.

 

19:10 – Again, the guests bring up the “cycle” of divorce that’s supposedly devastating, but they never mention any cycle of abuse or infidelity. We know there is a heritable aspect of some personality disorders.

 

 

21:30 - Mistake 10. These three men advocate something called co-parenting and setting aside your disagreements for the kids’ sake. This is really good advice if you are safe and the children are safe. But where there is a destructive ex-spouse, who makes false accusations, threatens you, tells lies, is stalking you, refuses to care for the family, squanders money, or places weapons on the counter to intimidate you, you cannot be naïve. You need to take precautions. Instead of “co-parenting,” you may end up using another technique called “parallel parenting,” where you don’t engage much with the other parent about anything other than the legal minimum required.

 

You see, the landmark Jaffee study shows that if the father has at least 3 of the 7 anti-social traits (see link), he is destructive to the children, and divorce provides some protection by removing the children at least part of the time from the home, thus reducing their likelihood of developing conduct disorders themselves.

 

22:20 - Mistake 11. Focus on the Family pretends the godly spouse can “bring health” back into the marriage single-handedly. The reality: The abuser needs to stop abusing. The cheater needs to stop cheating. Each spouse is responsible for their own attitudes and behaviors; the godly wife cannot control the misbehaving husband no matter what she does. The godly husband cannot control his alcoholic wife just by setting a good example. This is another false ideology that underpins Focus on the Family: placing the burden on fixing the marriage on the wife (usually) and letting the destructive husband off the hook.

 

22:30 - Mistake 12. Getting therapy can solve serious marriage problems. They say, “It will be much more helpful to your kids if you decide to go get the help.”  Yes, if the problem is just communication, problem-solving techniques, or conflict resolution, that might be true. But if one spouse just loves to sin whenever the other isn’t looking, there’s not much hope. Focus on the Family talks about the “complexities of marriage.” But abuse and betrayal are destroyers of marriage, not mere “complexities” that one has to endure.

 

Focus on the Family spokesmen don't seem to understand that abusers love to abuse. Abusers love their life exactly as it is. Being kind to people just takes too much time. Reasoning with others and listening to their views annoys them. Finding a mutual agreement is too much work. They're impatient. They have the "my way or the highway" mindset. Abusers want compliance NOW, and being mean or brutal is a great way of achieving that—FAST! Abuse works for them.

 

 

Finally, there are some final ironies in this video:

 

19:45 – 20:39 — John Trent tells an anecdote where a mother divorces and the child is angry at first but admits later, "Mom, you were right." The implication in the story is that there was physical abuse. This story suggests divorce might be best in some cases, but Huerta and Sanford ignore it. That message doesn't fly at Focus on the Family. But thank you, Dr. Trent, for trying.

23:20 - Huerta talks about Dr. John Trent’s book, Breaking the Cycle of Divorce, and suggests viewers buy it. It was written more than a decade ago, and rather than “breaking the cycle of divorce,” it failed to do so. Trent’s own lovely daughter got divorced a few years ago. She talks about it publicly on several Focus on the Family videos. Like many of us, she was a sweet loving girl from a good Christian family who fell in love with someone who concealed their traits and became destructive. It can happen to anyone.

 

Focus on the Family is UNSAFE where there is abuse/betrayal. 

 


Are you going through a life-saving divorce and need support and clarity? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." Just click the link and ANSWER the 4 QUESTIONS. This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Supporters and people helpers are also welcome.  I’ve written a book on divorce for Christians and other people of faith, The Life-Saving Divorce: Paperback: https://amzn.to/3cF1j25  Or eBook: https://amzn.to/3CCBsnr

Also, sign up for my email list below or HERE www.lifesavingdivorce.com/courage

 

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