Effort to 'normalize' divorce misguided
In the hilarious romantic comedy "It's Complicated," there's a scene in which grown children make it clear they are not happy at the prospect of their parents getting back together 10 years after their breakup. Why? "We're still getting over the divorce," one explains.
Of course they are. In fact, I'm convinced that our culture and its effort to "normalize" divorce make it harder for kids to heal from it.
I was reminded of this recently when talking to a dear friend whose husband also left their family years ago. We compared notes about how we've been adamantly told by the culture -- from books to schools to certain counselors -- to maintain to our kids that "the divorce is sad, but no one is at fault."
I've known many people over the years left by a spouse, in spite of doing everything they could to save their marriage, who themselves insist on buying into this thinking. Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid. To say both parents decided to end the marriage when that's a lie is degrading to the faithful spouse. But the cover-up is supposed to help the kids -- how, exactly?
In contrast, I had people in my life who encouraged me to follow a different and more honest path when my marriage ended over five years ago now. Many times I've shared with friends and readers facing similar circumstances the things I've learned -- observations they tell me have been so helpful. Well, for those who might find it so, here are some highlights. Just beware of "cultural incorrectness":
The big picture is that it doesn't necessarily take two people to end a marriage. It can take just one who decides to break a promise and walk away from the marriage when the other spouse has remained -- and desires to remain -- committed to it.
Now let's get personal:
1. You weren't a perfect wife or husband by a long stretch. Ditto your spouse. It was still his or her calling to remain faithful to your marriage. That's why it's "marriage," not "dating."
2. If you tell your children that you are complicit in ending the marriage when you are not, your children will know you are lying. Then whom will they trust? What will they think of your own values and commitment? What will they think of marriage itself someday?
3. To the extent you make compassionately clear that the problem lies in the heart of the one who tragically chose to break a promise, the less likely your children are to blame themselves for the divorce. Almost certainly, the more likely they will have healthy relationships later.
4. Compassion is key. We are all sinners, capable of far worse than we probably imagine. Sin can be so blinding! And so without sharing details I didn't need to, I told my kids years ago: "Your dad didn't leave because he could see clearly, but precisely because he couldn't."
There's more, but you get the idea.
In "Complicated," there's a poignant moment in which Dad (Alec Baldwin) is standing in a doorway and looking in on the family he left. The children, like my kids, have a relationship with their father. Still, as they sit down to dinner with their mom (Meryl Streep) and he goes home to the woman he left them for, he looks longingly and sadly at a family scene that can never truly be his again.
The whole movie hit close to home for me. But that moment made me sad for my ex's loss most of all. I think being honest with myself and with my children over the years has brought me to that redemptive place. And so I'm grateful, especially for my children's well being, that with the help of wise friends I was able to see what it means that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
-- Hart writes for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail her at