Best move might not be divorce

January 3, 2006 — Leave a comment

Salt Lake Tribune

Is there such a thing as a good divorce?

Much has been written lately about “the good divorce,” but does such a thing really exist? It appears that this softened talk about divorce is alive and well in our society. Guilty, heartbroken parents worry about their children. And, well-meaning professionals are there to comfort and reassure, but not this one. My concern about our divorce soft-talk is that it minimizes, distorts, and ignores the pain felt by children of divorce.

Yes, children look mature and capable on the outside. But on the inside, they often experience detachment and division in the aftermath of their parents’ divorce. Whenever I speak to adult children of divorce, certain key phrases are repeated: “My loyalties were always split;” “I never knew where I fit in;” “I was always saying good-bye to one of my parents;” or “I had to be a little adult dealing with grown-up issues.”

Just less than half of all first marriages fail. None of us like to admit it, but children who come from divorced families have a high likelihood of also divorcing. Perhaps divorce teaches children that problems can’t be solved, and that it’s acceptable to break covenants.

We expect children of divorce to adapt, be resilient, and take divorce in stride. Why? Because we need them to be that way. It alleviates our own concern, shame, and responsibility. Children pick up on the fact that you need them to keep it all together. They take their lead from you and stuff down the trauma, anxiety and confusion.

It’s not my intention to accuse divorced parents. They already get it. You can tell by the pain in their eyes and the words they share. It is my intention, however, to get the attention of married parents who sit with their contemplation and idealization of divorce. Sure we’ll all move on, but to what degree does the sting of divorce remain for all involved?

Children’s needs are less often met when they lack one home with a married mother and father.

Divorce requires that they exist somewhere between two homes, unless the parents themselves alternate, moving in and out of the family home. This recently coined term, “bird-nesting,” describes the effort some divorced parents make in order to provide a more stable foundation for their little ones. It’s no surprise that bird-nesting isn’t a popular decision among divorced couples because moving back and forth between the family home and their own apartment is highly inconvenient and bothersome. Go figure.

Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship; it is a social good. Not every person will or should marry. And not every child raised outside marriage is destined to fail as an adult. However, communities where good-enough marriages exist have better outcomes for men, women, and children than do communities suffering with high divorce rates. If we’re honest, we know that divorce hurts everyone.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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