Oh how I loathe articles about how divorce hurts children! And not only because they frequently use “impact” as a verb. And are full of pseudo science and religious guilt tripping. I hate them because they go right for the emotional jugular with right-thinking parents everywhere (read: chumps and other codependents) — “You selfish, selfish monster. Go ahead and leave your “unhappy” marriage, but you’ll be HURTING THE CHILDREN.”
Of course only monsters willfully hurt children. Jerry Sandusky pedophiles, sadistic British school masters, Josef Mengele. Let’s add you to that list! The argument goes: Divorce is an option, one you willfully make with full knowledge of how devastating and hurtful this will be to your children — your daughters will be promiscious! Your children will have lifelong trust issues! They’ll die young! — and so if you indulge your selfish, selfish desire to get out of your marriage, well, you do so over their innocent little heads.
You know who loves this argument? Cake eating cheaters.
Cake eaters feel entitled to engage in their crap behavior and hold you hostage to it, because you would never do anything to Hurt The Children and break up their home. That’s on you, of course, not the crap behavior. The people who actually need this message — consider the children! — are the ones who are congenitally tone deaf to it: cheaters, addicts, the mentally ill.
So that leaves you trying to hold the family together while the toxic person in your life goes skipping merrily about doing whatever the fuck they want to. Oh sure, try therapy, parenting classes, church, a threaded pipe upside the head. I hope that works. Because chumps do want the gold standard for their kids — the intact happy family of stability and financial security. And we’ll usually pay a pretty high price of admission to get that, or the illusion of it any way. But if you’re with someone determinedly fucked up (cheaters, addicts, the mentally ill), there is going to come a time when (if you are at all healthy) you just refuse to live in dysfunction any longer.
And that’s a very difficult place to be — that emancipation process. It seems to me that there are far too many messages telling you to reconcile at all costs and sacrifice yourself to your children’s intact home life than there are shouting — SAVE YOURSELF! Save your kids! A just and loving God does not want you shackled to a remorseless cheater! Or a feckless personality disorder! Consider what you are modeling to them by staying!
Do those studies that say divorce-hurts-children-don’t-do-it ever untangle whether it is the divorce itself or the dysfunction that led to the divorce (and the animosity and alienation afterward) that hurt the kids instead? What does living with a raging alcoholic do to children? Emotional abuse? Physical abuse? Mental illness? The flagrant disrespect of infidelity? Do we really want our children modeling these behaviors, growing up thinking abuse and chumpdom are normal and right? These articles usually have these wan, watered down disclaimers. [Sigh] Okay, fine, if it’s really that bad… And then follow up with questions like — but did you try hard enough to save it first?
Maybe I only associate with chumps, but where are these wanton, casual divorcees? Where are these people for whom divorce is easy, breezy, and doesn’t kill your credit rating? I mean, there is a certain logic to cake eating. Enjoy the benefits of marriage and fuck around. The chump in the relationship will do the heavy lifting. Cake eaters love to tell their affair partners, oh hey, I only stay for the children. “Ours is a hollow marriage.”
I am certain that divorce does hurt children, that they feel hurt by it. So do parents going through the divorce. But children are not known for their big picture, longitudinal views of situations. According to one article, if you ask children what they want, they prefer that their parents were still married. But consider, this same demographic when polled will also tell you they would like chocolate cake for breakfast.
I do not want to make light of how hard this is for kids. They more than anyone are the innocent victims of a parent’s fuckupedness. That is why it is so important to be the sane parent. To model self respect. To demonstrate to them how to navigate your way through crisis, how to do so with classiness and humor and optimism, even when you want to curl up and die some days.
I’m on the other side of two divorces, both of which I was loathe to put my son through. If he’s a hopeless fuck up, he’s no worse than I was at 15 and frankly, he’s a pretty great kid. He’s on the honor roll. He does a varsity sport. He walks our widowed neighbor’s dog. He’s generally polite and well-behaved. Kind, empathetic.
If I hadn’t divorced those losers, my son wouldn’t have my husband in his life, who models every day what it is to be a good man, who treats his mother right. I’m sure my son would’ve been just fine with just me, we were doing pretty well on our own. But THIS is the life I wanted him to have, the intact, loving, respectful relationship I wanted modeled to him. I’m sorry it’s not with his bio dad, but that wasn’t possible (his father is mentally ill). There were years I tried to make that relationship work. Thank God we don’t always get what we want. Thank God for reinvention. Thank God for new beginnings.
We have to hold to the vision of a better future in those painful, early days when our kids are hurting. Don’t falter and fuck the guilt mongers. It’s out there.