One of my thirteen year old twin daughters was invited to a classmate’s birthday party. (Only one twin was invited? Well that happens when twins are in some separate classes at school and make new friends not from the pool of friends they both know…it actually makes my twin girls even on birthday party invites as the other twin was invited to another classmate’s party in the Fall.) As we were driving home, I asked my daughter the usual questions: How many guests were there and what are their names? What snacks and/or type of cake did you eat? Did you play any games and what were they? Did you have a good time? After my first set of questions were answered and my daughter said she had had a nice time, I asked about the adults who had been in the living room and kitchen when I arrived at the home when the party was designated to be over. My daughter told me who the various adults were and then said that the gentleman in the kitchen washing up the dishes was not the father, as I had assumed but a stepdad of the student. After a pause, my daughter commented on the sad fact that a lot of her classmates have divorced parents; one friend has parents who have separated recently due to a big fight. She summed up her comment by thanking me and her dad for staying married to each other.
Her comments got me to thinking this past weekend. Divorce statistics remain high, too high, in my opinion, in the Unites States. I have known many people who suffered when their parents, for whatever the reasons, announced that the marriage was going to be over and a divorce was imminent. One friend could still recall the pain, at the age of 5, watching her father trying to leave the house with a suitcase in his hand, her older sister sobbing and clinging to him, trying with all her might to make him stay and he having to pry his daughter’s hands from his person.
Divorce hurts the children the most. The innocent, who didn’t ask to be born, who now have to watch the anger, the bitterness, of the two most important adults in their lives go their separate ways. These children having to experience the bewilderment and fear of their world being torn apart. The consequences of a marriage ending don’t resolve until one of the divorced parents passes away. One friend, who’s parents had divorced when she was a college student, and miraculously she saw them re-marry one another when her own children were in their teens, recalled the hurt in having to make two phone calls when a new grandbaby was born, the hurt in having to host one parent at one holiday and the other at another holiday. I read years ago in a study that children who lose a parent to death actually do better in coping with life than children who lose a parent due to divorce. The child who loses a parent to death has good memories to dwell on but the child of divorce often has the bad memories to deal with, and the continuing angst and sadness of two parents who didn’t stay married to one another.
A statistic I read in researching for this post stated that 40% of children before reaching the age of 16, could expect to see their parents’ marriages end in divorce. That number is unbelievably high and very sad. My point in writing this post is not to heap guilt on divorced parents. What’s done is done, and there are myriads of reasons for a marriage to fail. If that has happened, here’s a helpful article I came across in my readings for helping one’s children cope with the divorce and good ways to handle visitations and to keep communication open between the children and both parents.
My advice to young married couples with children would be to focus on your marriage over the needs of the children. Children are a blessing, I firmly believe that. They require lots of care, nurturing, and love. They need guidance, discipline, and your wisdom. However, you musn’t put them at the top of the marriage…the first relationship, the husband and wife relationship, must come before the children. Don’t make idols of your children! Years ago when I atttended La Leche League meetings with my firstborn and was getting a handle on breastfeeding him, I also met other moms in the same boat as me in that we were all first-time moms. One mom in particular, was putting her baby at the top of her life’s agenda. The be all and end all of her reason for living was her baby. She shared with us how her husband was starting to complain a lot about how she’d drop everything at one whimper from her baby, to the point that her husband was starting to sleep in the guest room! She was adamant that that was okay with her, her baby and his needs came first. I didn’t say anything to her and if I had I don’t know if she would have begun to change her ways, but I foresaw a divorce down her life’s path if she didn’t ease up on her attitude that her baby had to be first in all aspects of her daily living, and if she continued to treat her husband like a second-class citizen in her marriage. That’s my example of making one’s child an “idol”.
To young, married couples, keep that line of communication open with one another. Find a sitter from time to time and go out on dates. Let each other know how much you appreciate what they bring to the marriage. As a stay at home mom, I relished the compliments my husband would give me when our children were small. I, in turn, have told him many times how much I appreciated his hard work at his career in order for me to be at home with our children when they were small and later, when I homeschooled them.
I was humbled, happy, and pleasantly surprised when my daughter thanked me and her father. I had not really given it much thought that due to our marriage succeeding, that there is an inherent stability that our children could count on, an inherent safety in their world. Strive, young married couples, with children, to stay together for your childrens’ sakes. You will probably get a thank you too, years from now.