Wednesday, April 05, 2006

2354 Lives of Quiet Turbulence

is an interview with Elizabeth Marquardt on the moral and spiritual life of the children of divorce in the March 2006 issue of Christianity Today based on her book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, (Crown, 288 pp., $24.95).

I thought I knew a lot about this topic, but Marquardt definitely looks at a different angle. My husband and one of his nieces are the only members of his family who are not divorced or married to a divorced person. His four siblings and their spouses or ex-spouses have had 17 marriages among them, and at least 3 long term non-married arrangements that have lasted longer than the marriages. His parents and most of his aunts and uncles were divorced before the 1940s when it was still rare. Celebrating a holiday with my in-laws brought new meaning to the idea of the "blended family."

We don't talk much about divorce any more, but reading this article brought back to me some of the conversations we had in our early years about the pain of his parents' divorce and his mixed feelings about growing up in a step family. And he really had no memory of his birth parents ever being together. What I loved about his families were their openess, acceptance of differences, sense of humor, and relaxed way of life (much of which was caused by alcohol, but I didn't know that then). What he loved about my family were commitment, stability, integrity and honesty. Over the years, I've decided there is an invisible scar from divorce even one that happened 50 or 60 years ago--or there's a small open wound that doesn't heal.

Marquardt discovered that children of divorce have a different interpretation of the Prodigal Son story. They tend to focus on the leaving, not the coming back and uniting of the family. They see themselves as the "waiting father" and their parents as the wayward child.

She says that children of a "good divorce" don't fare as well as children of a "bad marriage." Any kind of divorce is a radical restructuring of a child's life.

"Happy talk" about divorce, such as that which appears in some children's books, is callous and dishonest, in Marquart's opinion.

Children of divorce have a "job" that should belong to adults--making sense of different sets of values, beliefs and ways of living. They grow up traveling between 2 worlds (or 3) with separate memories with each parent.

Marriage is the most pro-child institution in all societies and civilizations and has been since the beginning of recorded history. The idea of staying together for someone else's benefit is radical in our modern society.

Children are generally unaware of adults' feelings in low-conflict, but loveless, marriages. A pre-schooler doesn't care whether his parents are having sex 5 times a week or never. He does care if daddy doesn't come home.

"Honor your parents" has a different meaning for children of divorce. They either don't, or they honor the one who made the sacrifices. Those who are Christians make a stronger effort to do this than those who are not.

If you're feeling defensive, insisting your parents' divorce did not harm you in any way, read this review of Marquardt's book in a different journal by Lauren Winner, a wonderful writer in her own right. Winner declares, "I have always hated the phrase "children of divorce." I am not a child of divorce. I am the child of two people who, among other things, got divorced."


Just D said...

As usual, you've touched me. I'm glad that my first time back to you in so long was a chance to read something really good!

Bonita said...

You've always got such good stuff here, Norma.

How we respond to anything is a matter of perception, integration of information, choice and intent. But, as a child who witnessed a sad relationship between my parents all my life, it was refreshing to see them part in old age. They left many imprints.