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Divorce affects more than immediate family

Divorce is almost always toughest on children, and secondly on their parents. Divorce also impacts other loved ones, such as the children's grandparents, siblings of the divorcing couple, and friends of the couple.

Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D.
Michael R. Rosmann, Ph.D., FarmersÕ Forum columnist
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Divorce is almost always toughest on children, and secondly on their parents. Divorce also impacts other loved ones, such as the children's grandparents, siblings of the divorcing couple, and friends of the couple.

This is the last article in a four-part series about divorce between marriage partners. Today we look at how divorce affects the extended family and other people connected to separating families in general, and on-farm families and their communities in particular.

Parents, siblings and friends of divorcing couples usually don't know how to react initially to their separating loved ones. Unless an obvious reason underlies their loved ones' severed relations, such as one of the partner's involvement in criminal activity, most extended family members and friends try to not take sides and treat both partners equally.

Although their main motive initially might have been to treat both separating partners similarly, the relationships of extended family and friends with the formerly married couple change over time. Resentment toward one of the separated partners can set in, as well as many other emotional shifts.

Anger is a necessary stage of adjustment for most extended family and friends, and for the divorcing partners and their children. Healing and "moving on" often don't take place without an angry phase; that's when much of the hurt dissipates for everyone affected by the dissolution.


Grandparents and other loved ones, if they are available, usually step up to help with child-rearing and sometimes with finances. Adjustment of post-divorce farm families has some similarities, and some differences, with families in general.

Neighbors, relatives and other community members tend to look out for family members who stay on the farm by helping with necessary farm work and decision-making. By comparison, children in urban or nonfarm families are seldom part of a family economic enterprise, say sociologists Rand Conger and Glenn Elder.

They, and their team of allied investigators, found that farming communities "took care of" their distressed members. Their conclusions were based on studies of farm families in an eight-county area of Iowa for the two decades prior to 2000.

Why do relatives, friends and neighbors help struggling farm families maintain their place on the land? Do entire agricultural communities have an "agrarian imperative" that motivates the residents to look out for agricultural producers who identify within the community?

These questions could be the subjects of multiple masters' theses, doctoral dissertations and other research efforts to see how agricultural communities support their members in comparison to non-agricultural communities. I know of no systematic research projects that have investigated these hypotheses.

Many farmers have benefitted from planting and harvest bees, clean-up efforts after disasters, and such organizations as Farm Rescue ( ). Amish and Mennonite farming communities coming to the aid of ill and injured farm individuals and families are additional examples of farm aid that is more enduringly supportive and less expensive overall than federal crop insurance and other U.S. Department of Agriculture disaster programs.

Agricultural communities practice one of the most sustaining social structures that has survival value. Like ants and bees in their colonies have instinctual drives to protect their communities from harm, farming people band together to aid one another from harm.

Agriculture contributed tremendous survival advantages for humans over other species when farming methods were first developed some 150 centuries ago in southwest Asia and later in east Asia and the Americas. Agricultural communities that had reserves of food and materials for clothing, shelter and fuel enabled their residents to endure hard times such as winter, droughts and conflicts.


Other community members were freed up to concentrate on specialized pursuits such as construction of buildings, sewing garments, tool-making, medical care, education, various arts and many other crafts. The entire community benefited from having healthy agricultural producers.

The agrarian imperative theory is a plausible explanation for why extended family and friends support loved ones who farm after divorce and other traumas. People who leave farming carry urges with them to help others in their new communities.

The practice of looking out for other community members who reside in metropolitan settings continues in such forms as block parties and disaster fundraising events. Sometimes their community urges may diminish over successive generations, but they quickly resurrect when people reintegrate into rural communities that are involved in farming, fishing and other agricultural pursuits.

The bottom line is that divorce isn't the end-all of happiness when families sever their relationships. Everyone can learn from farming communities that support their members through losses of all types, including divorce.

The experience of finding understanding and hope in relationships with extended family, friends and acquaintances who care builds self-esteem and a capacity to survive turmoil by children - actually by everyone. People who experience divorce in their family aren't the same as they were prior to their severed ties, but their emotional wounds heal.

Nonetheless, avoiding divorce is usually still a better option, when possible.

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