Worldwide divorce rates are soaring and children are all too often its forgotten casualties. The effect of divorce on children has been a topic addressed often and widely in the United States. But what about the developing world? Too often, fundamental concerns with the basic family unit become neglected as other pressing issues demand attention within diverse nations such as South Africa and Romania. Countries burdened with health, economic, and political crises often do not have the so-called luxury of attending to child development issues. However, through my experience working with children in both nations, it is my conviction that helping children of divorce cope with their divided family is a justifiable and an urgent endeavor.
During the past academic school year I participated in two International Study Programs: first a field study in East London, South Africa and then an internship in Iasi, Romania. Living and volunteering abroad provided me with numerous opportunities to work with young children. It was while working at the Family and Marriage Society of South Africa that I had the opportunity to run a life-skills workshop for five children of divorce. Generally, children of divorce exhibit more academic, social, psychological, and behavioral problems than peers who remain married.i My program was structured to ameliorate such difficulties these children may have experienced by allowing them to meet other children going through similar experiences and by providing a non-threatening outlet to express their feelings. At the completion of this project, primarily through the use of children’s family drawings, I came to the conclusion that family transitions are particularly difficult for children of divorce. The extracted meaning from such drawings has sparked my interest in the psychology of children’s art.
My purpose in this research was to investigate how Romanian history and culture affects today’s Romanian children of divorce compared to South African children by analyzing and comparing their family drawings. I collected several drawings in both countries from children of varying familial backgrounds, with the majority coming from divorced backgrounds. I obtained informed consent from the participants and their parents. I gave minimal instructions as to what to draw, provided the materials, and gave them as much time as they needed to complete their picture. After doing some outside research on the meaning of children’s art, I analyzed and compared the two groups drawings.
I initially hypothesized that the Romanian children would draw themselves as one of the weaker characters compared to the authority figures within their family unit. This occurred in one drawing and was evident in all the drawings by the South African sample. I also predicted a possible indication of a gender hierarchy within the Romanian sample. Though open to interpretation, this was manifested with each father figure being placed dominantly in the center of each depiction. In one picture, the father is the only character with hands while the rest of the family remains limbless. And finally, I predicted that the difficulty of family transitions, as evident with my South African group, to be similar among drawings completed by Romanian children. My South African sample lent ample evidence to this supposition: one young girl drew her father’s girlfriend as a witch and another participant drew his mother’s boyfriend as a towering monster over his cowering family. I did not find any strong evidence of such a phenomenon within the sample gathered in Romania. When comparing the Romania sample to the South Africa sample as a whole, I found that age was a more significant factor in distinguishing the drawings.
The findings of this research project are encouraging. Manifestations of culture the intricacies of family relationships were evident in the simple drawings of young children. The effect of divorce was apparent and lent insight on the effect of marital breakdown upon children. Further development of this project ought to include a control group of children whose parents have remained married in order to compare children of divorce to their peers. Additionally, perhaps it would be beneficial to add another sample from a diverse culture in order to test the universal applicability of my conclusions.
This project was not without it’s challenges. It was difficult to find participants, especially those whom could obtain consent from their parents. My sample size was very small and thus may be more of a case study nature. Obtaining a larger sample would have undoubtedly offered more information and would better aid in testing my hypotheses. The language barrier was a particularly difficult obstacle: I had a translator, but I wasn’t convinced my instructions were perfectly understood. In the end, it was difficult to analyze the drawings. It is a subjective matter where many pieces may be understood differently by different people and I am by no means an expert.
In sum, this was a valuable experience for me personally. I enjoyed working with children of different cultures. I am sure they taught me more than I taught them. I have just graduated and plan to pursue social work within an international avenue. I hope to travel again soon and if possible, continue my research on the same subject.
- Sun, Y. (2001). Family environment and adolescents’ well-being before and after parents’ marital disruption: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 697-714.