Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

Dr. Amy Wilkins

Second Advisor

Dr. Janet Jacobs

Third Advisor

Dr. Matthew Brown


The current research on children of divorce largely examines the behavioral issues associated with children one to two years after the divorce. Little research however, has been done into the impact divorce has on the identities of the children who experience divorce. My study set out to fill this gap in the literature by examining the nuanced ways that children of divorce carry that experience with them into young adulthood. Using interview data with 11 men, ten women, and one person who is agender, I examine the ways in which college students use storytelling about “bad families” to construct and manage their identities as children of divorce. Participants constructed their divorced families as bad by linking divorce to lower classes, using words like “weird,” “dirty,” and “nasty” to describe the divorce, talking about the perceived stigma they felt around their family’s inability to be “normal,” and highlighting their distain for divorce in their own marital lives. I argue that they used stories about “bad families” counterintuitively to manage the perceived stigma and marked identity they felt as being part of a divorced family. This identification of their families as “bad families” impacted the way they talked about the divorce, their parents, and their family. The participants linked a sense of failure and blame to themselves as a result of the divorce. I argue participants constructed the narrative of “bad families,” in part, as a way to navigate unsettling feelings of responsibility and failure.