Yesterday my husband and I celebrated our thirty-second wedding anniversary. It passed with little fanfare as we are visiting our son and we were enjoying spending time with him. We are having a good time, on the road together, talking and singing and otherwise enjoying each other’s company. He trotted out the corny marriage jokes in honor of the occasion, à la Rodney Dangerfield, and I rolled my eyes in faux disapproval. We are, I suppose, a little weird in our ways but we deeply love each other and we like each other too.
It may seem odd, then, that as we drive through the States, visiting our grown children, I am reading a book about divorce. Leila Miller’s book, Primal Loss: the Now Adult Children of Divorce Speak has just been released and I could not wait to download it to my Kindle. This book is valuable to anyone touched by divorce, directly or indirectly, which pretty much means everyone, doesn’t it? The testimonies that the seventy courageous contributors to the book provide are very powerful. For someone like myself, who was raised in an intact family and is living in a longtime marriage, it is quite eye-opening to learn just how terrible divorce really is, not only for the couple but for their whole family and beyond.
It is not an attack on divorced parents, many of whom genuinely believed they were doing the right thing. Others were victims themselves. Rather, by lifting the veil and shedding light on the fallout from divorce, this book can perhaps be a positive influence on those who are contemplating leaving their marriages.
Divorce impacts all relationships and permanently alters a child’s identity. As one of the contributors wrote,
In a divorce, a child becomes a mirror of his parents’ dysfunction in marriage instead of being a representation of their love. This change is confusing and irreconcilable to the child, and dysfunctional on the part of the adult.
The raw emotions of the book’s contributors should be enough to give pause to anyone thinking about leaving their marriage. Parents who would run into a burning building or step in front of a bus to save their children tell themselves that ending their marriage will be better for everyone but actually cause untold harm. Typically, children do not have a voice; they are informed, not consulted. They are not resilient, despite what we are told. They become adept at managing the adults in their lives, saying what their parents want to hear, fearful that they, too, will be abandoned if they misstep. They frequently suffer in silence and then act out in self-destructive ways, especially as adolescents.
Sometimes, it is as adults that the sadness and anger resurfaces. Having to deal with the baggage of bickering parents when planning weddings, baptisms, Christmases, birthday parties… it never ends. And they resent having to expose their children to the antics of their grandparents or extended step-families. Yet, they rarely voice these frustrations, having learned from an early age to appease.
They see the effects in their own marriages. Most have abandonment issues, ever fearful of alienating their spouses. Their insecurities create problems of their own. On the positive side, quite a number of contributors expressed that they took the lessons from their parents’ failed marriages and vowed never to do that to their own children. They are determined to stay married till death they do part.
Primal Loss is eye-opening when it comes to the pain of divorce, but it is more than that. Included is a chapter that tells the stories of couples who have weathered the storms of marriage and come out the other side. Lots of marriages — most, probably — experience difficult periods and plenty of reasons to throw in the towel. But there is hope, even when things seem very bleak. Our Catholic faith, our trust in Christ, our prayerful, supportive friends… these will help us to overcome the crises that may occur.
Read this book. Take a walk in the shoes of the children. I think we need to share their experiences so that we will be more willing to speak up, to be the voice of the voiceless. We need to help adults who are stuck in their own pain and don’t see the hurt they are inflicting on their children. We need to speak the truth with love. Primal Loss does just that.