Divorce... the Gift That Keeps on Giving?
The statement I’m about to make may sound cynical, but I think it is true, and never more so than at the holidays. And this slightly cynical, but nevertheless true, statement is that:
“Divorce is the gift that keeps on giving.”
It is like a financial investment that never fails to bring a return…just not the one we want.
So perhaps it may be better to say that (from the experience of the child) divorce is an annoying and painful rash that never completely goes away, and invariably flares up at all the supposed important times of the year, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, weddings, and your own child’s birthday.
Our national conversation about divorce and children has tended to surround the days and weeks immediately after the news of parental break up is announced. We’re told that if parents can simply break the news in a low conflict manner, and then separate their lives without triangulating the child, then divorce, while painful, is not harmful to the child. And if the separating is done well then the divorce should have little to no affect on older (even adult) children.
Yet, this conception does not match my own and many others’ experiences.
Elizabeth Marquardt and Judith Wallerstein’s research shows that the pain and struggle of divorce for children is not necessarily the immediate news and upsetting transitions, but the effect of forevermore living between their parents’ two distinct worlds.
When parents divorce, the two people that chose to make one world together (given to the child as the gift of family) assert that it is impossible for their distinct two worlds to be one any longer. The child is equally part of each parent, and stands as the concrete manifestation of the mystery and spirit of their union.
But this union can no longer be, for the tension in bringing each parent’s distinct world into one shared world is now too much, so the parents separate their lives. Living again in two separate worlds, they leave the child to do the work that was theirs; this child must now find a way to live, to have their being, between these two distinct worlds of mom and dad.
The only necessary link between these two distinct persons, who have taken direct actions to form worlds separate from each other, is us, the children of divorce.
We are the soft and stretched tissue that connects these otherwise unattached people, who are running in opposite directions, one from the other. And now when they do come back together it is because of us: our wedding, our graduation, the birth of our child, or the help we might need (like money for college or a loan to get a car).
Because they are living disconnected in their own distinct worlds, and because their separation came with disappointment and regret, when they are snapped back together because of us they cannot help but relate through comparison (which can quickly turn into competition). Mom asks how much time dad spends with our children, dad inquires where mom got the money to fly us all to Florida for vacation.
The comparisons may range over many issues, but always seem at one point or another to turn to money.
No doubt this has much to do with the fact that money can be counted and therefore provides something objective with which to measure and compare.
But money also signals commitment, loyalty, and support.
So, like clockwork every year and every big moment, the children of divorce are caught between their parents, as they compare themselves to one another, counting the money given—I paid for your reception; what is your dad paying? I got Joey a new bike for Christmas; what did your mom get her?
We are stuck not knowing what to say, or whether to be honest at all, as this question of comparison makes us all the more painfully aware that we live pulled between them. Being committed to both parents, or at the very least having both living within us, we may feel the duty or pressure to hide and shield money and gifts given, so that comparison doesn’t turn into competition, wrenching our own being between their two worlds again.
Written by Andrew Root
As a child of divorce, Andrew has had a number of powerful experiences. This blog contains his personal thoughts and opinions, and is only meant as a discussion of a number of short-term and long-term effects that divorce may have on families and children. It’s a tough subject and tougher situation, but if divorce is a situation that you must face, then you need to approach and deal with it in the way that is best for your life.
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