Ending the ‘Cult of the Broken Home’: Divorce, Children and the Changing Emotional Dynamics of Separating British Families, c.1945-90’

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Abstract

Abstract From the 1960s, rising divorce rates forced a re-thinking of family dynamics beyond the nuclear. Traditionally, experts and the public had presumed that children from ‘broken homes’ typically drifted into juvenile delinquency and crime. Children of divorce were blamed for a plethora of social problems. The increasingly common nature of divorce rendered this model unsustainable. Post-war children of divorce were more likely to be framed as ‘emotionally vulnerable’ and studied in more nuanced ways, not least because it seemed increasingly obvious that not all affected children grew up delinquent. A new consensus emerged that problems could only be avoided if parents created appropriate emotional conditions while separating and divorcing, and if parents and children openly communicated their feelings throughout the process. Children themselves were actively encouraged, through a new genre of divorce manuals often aimed at them, to express their emotions with parents and friends. Using Britain as a case study, this article argues that emotions became central to discussion of divorce in the post-war period, placing onuses on breaking down families to create a positive emotional space for affected children.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-188
Number of pages24
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Volume32
Issue number2
Early online date14 Feb 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021

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