Divorce is no party for the children

A bizarre, damaging trend in love and marriage (or hate and divorce) is currently being glorified by the media, needlessly sending out harmful messages about marriage — playing with children’s emotions in a poisonous way.

As recently seen on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” “divorce parties” are all the rage. Was your marriage on the rocks? Well, the divorce papers are signed and it’s now time to play “pin the blame on the ex” and “throw the wedding ring in the toilet” games — or so it is if you talk to the likes of the author of “The Woman’s Book of Divorce: 101 Ways to Make Him Suffer Forever and Ever” (Citadel, 2001). Unfortunately besides celebrating the end of our most precious cultural institution, when there are kids involved it’s also making light of the fracturing of families — a potential developmental disaster for children.

I hate to be a party pooper, but divorce has consequences. And to anyone who would like to pretend it’s not a scarring event — it may not be you, but they are out there — author Elizabeth Marquardt has one thing to say: There’s actually no such thing as a “good divorce.”

That’s the message in her new book, “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce” (Crown).

Marquardt, who herself “grew up divorced,” focuses on children, who are, as the title points out, often split between two worlds: mom’s and dad’s. Marquardt studied 1,500 Americans ages 18-35, who grew up in families with both married and divorced parents. The differences are startling.

Children of divorce, Marquardt found, have a level of discomfort that kids with a married mom and dad just don’t have. Sixty-nine percent of children in two-parent families reported going to one or both of their parents for comfort, while only 33 percent of children sought help while living in a divorced family.

Children of divorce are also less likely to feel protected by their parents, feel less safe at home, and are less likely to attend religious services. Obviously, this shakes out in different ways and to varying degrees, but it’s certainly a developmental burden on kids.

The aforementioned laundry list is not intended to make parents feel bad. But it’s a caution and a bit of a cultural wake-up call. “Most parents take the decision to divorce quite seriously, but I urge parents to think harder still,” Marquardt writes. Sometimes, of course, divorce really is what has to happen. Sometimes the marriage is ended by one spouse, leaving the other to cope — with no real way for the other to have prevented it. And, in the end, as Marquardt notes, it’s the couple’s business.

But divorce is not always the only option. Marquardt reports that two-thirds of all divorces end “low-conflict marriages.” Instead of infidelity or violence — real reasons to end a marriage — the catalyst may be boredom. In which case, we are definitely taking divorce too casually.

Recently, “Ask Amy” newspaper-advice columnist took a question from a woman in one of these marriages:

“He’s not abusive in any way, to the kids or me; I just don’t know if I love him anymore, and I can’t stop scanning the ‘apartments for lease’ section in the paper.” The single-parent columnist wasn’t going to let “Good Mom But Tired of Being a Wife” get away with casual-divorce daydreams. “Ask Amy” responded:

“Divorce — amicable and otherwise — stinks, and though I believe that most amicably divorced families work things out quite well, it’s hard, hard, hard. Unless there is clear abuse or neglect involved, children prefer for their parents to be together.”

A few weeks later, a 13-year-old girl responded via the column to “… Tired of Being a Wife” with the sign-off “Feeling Sad and Betrayed.” She wrote: “Guess what, if you are not a happy person, moving out isn’t going to magically make you happy. In fact, it will make you more lonely and sad. It will make everyone sad. This lady needs to work on the problem instead of blowing up her kids’ lives. It is her job to take care of them, first and foremost. Their trust of her is on the line.”

Marriage, as people vow on the big day, is through the good times and the bad. That’s not always easy, but it’s not meant to be easy. If you find yourself browsing through a divorce-party planner, you might want to look to your family instead and see what you can do to make it work. Man and wife and children will all be better off if mom and dad stick it out together.

And if you’ve got to go through with the big divorce — splitting up kids or not — please don’t get a party started. Not only for the children, but for the message it sends the rest of us about the blessed and arduous thing called marriage.

  • Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com

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