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Divorce Is So Unfashionable, Especially For Moms

By Sierra Black |

Alternative family structures may be all the rage, but so are traditional ones. Where by traditional I mean “married with kids”.

While fewer and fewer families have a straight married couple at their center, those that do are more likely to stay together. A lot more likely. Divorce rates have been steadily declining since the early 1980s. They’ve now fallen to only eleven percent among the college educated.

A New York Times feature on what it’s like to be a divorced mom these days focuses on how few of them there are, and how socially isolating it can be. They’re looking almost entirely at affluent, educated women. The type who can afford to go to yoga five times a week to help them get over their divorce. The kind who have access to lawyers and therapists to help smooth things out for their kids. Whose major worries are being accepted by the other Park Slope moms.

These women report that they’re a rare breed amongst their progressive, feminist friends. While many of their friends struggle with their marriages, there’s a general sense that once you’re married with kids, you stay married with kids.

Why? Anecdotally, it’s because these people are the children of those awful 1970s and 1980s divorces. Our moms were liberated, our families were broken, we suffered for it. And we don’t want to do the same thing to our kids. All the women interviewed for the NYT piece talk about wanting to protect their children from growing up in “broken homes”. They echoed each other with sentiments like this one:

It’s as if the children of Manhattan and Roslyn, N.Y., and Bethesda, Md., reflected on their parents’ sloppy divorces and said, “Not me.” For Ms. Thomas, whose parents separated when she was 12, “Divorce had pretty much defined everything in my life.” In her divorce memoir, “In Spite of Everything,” to be published this summer, Ms. Thomas recalls telling her ex-husband many times during their 16-year marriage, “Whatever happens, we’re never going to get divorced.”

The anecdotal evidence here is at odds with statistics. Children of divorce are actually much more likely to divorce than people who grew up with married parents. They may wish to stay married because their parents split up, but statistically they’re less likely to. It’s not growing up in the shadow of their own parents’ divorce that’s keeping today’s parents out of divorce court.

So what is it? Jezebel has some interesting ideas about what’s keeping modern marriages together:

They chose marriage, and they chose it later. There is at least the acknowledgment that women are more economically independent now, as opposed to earlier generations: “Many of these marriages in the ’70s were fundamentally unequal. With the women’s movements, they learned that there were alternatives, and that made divorce kind of a liberation.” But it isn’t just that these marriages are based on at least an ideal of partnership; it’s that they’re chosen among a set of family options that exist on an acceptable spectrum and have been normalized (including the ones invisible in the piece, i.e., anything not strictly heterosexual). Marriage may be more socially acceptable, but it’s not obligatory.

Essentially, Jezebel seems to be suggesting that with other options on the table, people who get married at all are the ones who are more committed to the marriage and each other. They’re less likely to dissolve their marriage vows because they made them more intentionally.

That rings true with other marriage research, which shows that people who marry later in life are more likely to stay married. Another reason people may be staying together is that they have better marriages. Couples tend to be happier when they share housework more equal, when they both have satisfying careers and when they feel like equal partners in their relationships. In other words, the more dishes guys wash the happier their wives will be. There’s less incentive to leave if things are working out OK.

But what about those who get divorced anyway? Is divorce really so bad for kids?

Research is divided on this. Stable loving homes are good for kids. Some studies show that children suffer from divorce, but others suggest that being raised by parents who hate each other is just as bad. Amongst divorced parents, there’s often a huge sense of relief, and a belief that they’ve done the best they can for their children. They’re looking for what one expert calls a “humane” solution, and often finding it. Some have dinner together once a week, others spend birthdays and holidays together. They come up with alternatives that work for their families and do them as gracefully as possible.

What do you think? Is the divorce rate down because people have better marriages, or are they just afraid of hurting their kids if they split up?Has your family gone through a divorce? Was it hard on the kids or the best thing for them?

Photo: CarbonNYC

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About Sierra Black


Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Divorce Is So Unfashionable, Especially For Moms

  1. Andrea says:

    I think it’s both. Adults pretend that divorce is hunky dory for kids who are supposedly “adaptable”, but when that first wave of kids who experienced divorce first hand grew up and married, they didn’t have the same rose coloured glasses. So no doubt, these people choose their partners wisely and are well aware of the terrible pain they will inflict on their own children if they choose divorce, so they don’t.

  2. Alyssa Johnson says:

    I think it’s a mixture of both as well. I see a lot of backlash in my generation (born in the 70s) from what we experienced as kids: decrease in divorce, increase in the choice to stay at home instead of be a working mom, more traditional values.

    But at the same time, as a marriage therapist, I know that the happiest and healthiest marriages are those where both partners feel appreciated for what they do. This makes things more balanced.

    One last note, with regard to the kids…while the research does show that it’s better for kids not to be in a home where the parents hate each other, this refers to a volatile home with constant fights and separations. Beyond this unique situation (which is an extremely small proportion of divorces), divorce has significantly negative consequences statistically for kids. Here are just a few risk factors that are increased in children of divorce: less likely to graduate high school, higher likelihood of incarceration as a juvenile, 5x more likely to live in poverty than children with married parents, more likely to use alcohol and drugs and engage in sexual intercourse at an earlier age.

    These are important ramifications to consider when the cause for divorce is discontent.

    Alyssa Johnson, LCSW

  3. marj says:

    I agree with Jezebel. We were over 30 when we go married and dated for years beforehand. I think the ugly divorces made our generation more cautious in general about marriage. I wouldnt stay married if we hated each other, but before i met him i broke up with guys who i realized i could not see myself happily married to.

  4. ms.smith says:

    i can relate to how difficult this is, especially when you have a very young child. divorce was forced on me when my son was 2. it was very tough. most people aren’t expecting to come across a young child with a visitation schedule. it’s hard to explain to friends, teachers, etc.

    i married at 22 after nearly five years of dating. we were married 10 years. both of our parents have been married for more than three decades. i was firmly committed and he was not. there was nothing i could do. the good news is my son doesn’t seem to notice and is perfectly happy. but i am saddled with guilt.

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