I have just finished reading what could be my biography. Elizabeth Marquardt’s Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce had me highlighting sentences on almost every page.
Here’s just a mundane example of something that made me laugh. When children from intact families are asked about birthdays from their childhood, they typically mention their own. Children of divorce recall their parents’ birthdays. As a child, I made my mother gifts, I bought her hideous earrings, I wrote her poems and stories. In intact families, the other parent usually helps the child remember a birthday, so the episode doesn’t register much. But for children of divorce, it is a big deal because we have to train ourselves to remember. We played the adult role.
Since the early 1970s, there has been this mistaken idea that children do best when their parents are happy. Even the church to a certain extent embraced this, as is evidenced from the divorce rates that aren’t all that much lower than the general population. Recent long-term studies of kids of divorce, though, show that contrary to popular belief, a child from an intact but unhappy family with only low-level conflict tends to grow up happier and more secure than a child from a divorced family.
God put us in families to learn important things about commitment, and love, and identity. It wasn’t supposed to be an optional arrangement. But too often it has been treated that way, and those who are most affected are the children.
When parents divorce, a child’s world comes crashing down. It doesn’t matter if both parents still love you; the simple fact is that, to a child, at least one did not love you enough. They thought of their own needs before they thought of yours. Emotional security has disappeared.
But we should not believe that the children are the only ones who suffer. Divorce has spiritual consequences for those parents who deliberately caused it as well. Jesus said quite clearly that “if anyone causes one of these little ones…to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck (Mark 9:42).” Kids of divorced families are far more likely to get into trouble at school, to become sexually active as teenagers, to wind up in jail, and to fall away from the church. It has consequences, and Jesus is not impressed when, through our actions, kids are steered in the wrong direction.
It’s interesting that in almost every other avenue of parenthood we try to spare our children pain. But when it comes to divorce, we ask three-year-old kids to be separated from their mothers for weekends, and from their dads for weeks at a time, or vice versa. We ask small children to sleep in strange bedrooms, to move more often than usual, to change schools, to get used to intruders in the house you’re supposed to call step-siblings or step-parents, and to undergo all these changes without complaint.
Today one third of divorces are inevitable, because one parent is abusive, addicted, or unfaithful. Marquardt is not addressing those who flee these relationships, and I believe that God’s grace is available in abundance for those who have to overcome such horrors.
But two thirds of divorces are simply because one or both spouses would prefer to leave. In these cases, as Marquardt shows, there are no good divorces. Of course, many parents, like my mother, had little choice about the disintegration of the marriage. Their spouses left, and they tried to build a solid home for the children also left behind. Those parents deserve our praise and admiration. But other adults think their personal happiness is worth their children’s agony, despite what Jesus clearly warned.
I know some marriages are tough. I know many people feel very alone even though they’re together. I don’t mean to minimize that, except to say that there is grace and things can change. But, to be truthful, I am still more concerned about the kids than I am about them. And if those parents could listen to the sad voices in this book, maybe they’d realize, too, that God had a very good reason for instituting “till death do us part”.
Copyright © 2008 Sheila Wray Gregoire. All rights reserved.
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