Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hard Truth

Elizabeth Marquardt was two years old when her parents split up in the early 1970’s. Three decades later she conducted the first nationally representative study of the grown children of divorce, which resulted in her much-discussed new book “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce.” In a recent Houston Chronicle editorial (11/13/05), Marquardt noted that,

Before the divorce rate began its inexorable rise in the late 1960s, the common wisdom had been that where children are concerned, divorce itself is a problem. But as divorce became widespread – peaking at almost one in two first marriages in the mid-1980’s – popular thinking morphed into a new, adult-friendly idea: It’s not the act of divorcing that’s the problem, but simply the way that parents handle it. Experts began to assure parents that if they only conducted a “good” divorce – if they both stayed involved with their children and minimized conflict – the kids would be fine.
It was a soothing tonic, and it was swallowed eagerly by many angst-ridden parents. But it was also, it turns out, a myth. No matter how happy a face we put on it, the children of divorce are now saying, we’ve been kidding ourselves. An amicable divorce is better than a bitter one, but there is no such thing as a good divorce.
When you talk to the children themselves, you find that rampant “good divorce” talk mainly reflects the wishes of adults, while silencing the voices of children. The divorce debate has long been conducted by adults, for adults, on behalf of the adult point of view, but now the grown children of divorce are telling their own, very different stories.

My parents separated when I was sixteen and divorced a few years later. I know many fine people and good Christians who are divorced. So my point is not to rub anyone’s nose in the failure of their marriage. My point is simply to applaud the “hard truth” that this new book brings to bear on some of the delusions we have allowed ourselves to develop regarding the effects of divorce on children. Following are some other of Marquardt’s findings:
1) Most marriages (two-thirds) that result in divorce were “low-conflict” marriages (i.e., no abuse, violence, or serious fighting). Consequently children, who usually are not closely attuned to the “waxing and waning cycles of adult happiness,” experience a “massive blow that comes out of nowhere” when their parents split.
2) Children of so-called “good divorces” often do worse even than children of unhappy low-conflict marriages. As Marquardt puts it, “No matter how ‘good’ at it their parents were, the children of divorce were travelers between two very different worlds, negotiating often vastly different rules and roles.”
As I said, I am writing about this not to beat up on divorced people but simply to challenge and encourage married couples to invest in their relationship and “divorce-proof” their marriage to the greatest extent possible. Our children deserve our absolute best effort to stay together. Love, care for, support, get along with, even reconcile with your spouse for their sake if for no other reason. The stakes are high.

1 Comments:

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1:07 AM  

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