Heather wrote a great piece yesterday about how kids growing up with divorced parents can turn out just fine. What really matters, according to the scant literature we have on the subject, is the emotional climate around a divorce. Do the parents treat each other and the kids fairly? Is the family system happy overall, rather than stressed and angry?
That makes sense. What kids need is a loving, stable home. The relationship between their parents shouldn’t matter that much, right?
My own parents had the most amicable of divorces. I never saw them fight when they were married, and haven’t ever seen them be anything but warm to each other in the 25 years since they split. We even went on family vacations together after their divorce.
Still, I couldn’t agree more with Nora Ephron’s post on Huffington Post today, where she exhorts parents to stay together for their kids.
…unless the parents are beating each other up, or abusing the children, kids are better off if their parents are together. Children are much too young to shuttle between houses. They’re too young to handle the idea that the two people they love most in the world don’t love each other anymore, if they ever did. They’re too young to understand that all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring their parents back together. And the newfangled rigmarole of joint custody doesn’t do anything to ease the cold reality: in order to see one parent, the divorced child must walk out on the other.
A good friend of mine put this best to me, as we watched another friend go through a particularly hard stretch in her marriage: “Either you get to live the life you want, or your kids do.”
My parents lives are so different now, it’s hard to imagine they were ever married. How did these people even know each other? My dad lives in the mountains outside Tucson, where he makes crystal jewelry and listens to local jazz bands. My mom lives on the ocean in Massachusetts, and commutes to Boston where she’s an executive at a big health care company. They would never meet, today.
Given how different they are it’s impossible for me to wish them back together, or regret the choices they made. All our lives would be so unimaginably different, I couldn’t even be me writing this.
But it’s worth noting that as excellent as they were at loving my sister and I and keeping us close to both of them after the split, their divorce still hurt us. I’m *still* unearthing ways it affected me, more than two decades later. Kids really depend on the stability of their home and family.
Most kids get a stable home, actually. Divorce isn’t as prevalent as a lot of us believe. Ephron says divorce has been increasing since the 1960s, but that’s wrong. Tara Parker-Pope’s recent book on marriage, For Better, shows really solid data that the divorce rate has been decreasing steadily since the early 80s, especially among parents.
Obviously, not every couple will stay together. If a marriage is abusive, it’s best for everyone to get the kids and the abused parent into a safe living situation. Plenty of non-abusive marriages end, too, just because the partners lives change.
There are days when my differences with my own husband seem pretty irreconcilable. As a child of divorce, I’m vastly more likely to get divorced myself. I remind myself of that when I’m tempted to walk out the door. And then I walk back in and do my level best to make things right with him.
“Irreconcilable differences” are a real thing. It behooves parents to make an extra effort to reconcile theirs, though. Once you have kids together, it’s not simply your own health and happiness in the equation.
Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography