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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 12, 2019
The children of divorce, even as adults, have become accustomed to being silenced.
Recently, I noticed my friend Leila Miller repeating online that she does not insist that people remain living with an abusive spouse. My inclination was to say, “Stop! You don’t need to say it again!”
Around the same time, I noticed that I was about to repeat myself on a seemingly unrelated topic. I started thinking, “What exactly is going on here?” My answer: We are dealing with weaponized self-pity, not a good-faith question.
Miller is the author of Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak. She gives voice to the adult children whose lives were disrupted by their parents’ divorces. This is the context in which people continually challenge her about abusive marriages. “Why,” Miller asks herself in frustration, “do I have to keep assuring people that no one is required to remain living in abusive situations?”
I’ve had this experience myself. Like Miller, I point out how difficult divorce can be for children. Our focus is on the children, their lifelong suffering and what we can do about it, as individuals and as a society.
The children of divorce, even as adults, have become accustomed to being silenced. As children, they were expected to go along with whatever the adults decided to do. Their parents’ love often seems uncertain and fragile. Challenging the parents’ interpretation of events risks that love.
Even as adults and even outside their families, children of divorce often hesitate to speak up. When they state that divorce was hard for them, people regularly shut them down. In fact, some children of divorce sardonically take bets among themselves in online discussions. “When we talk about how hard divorce was for us, how long will it be before someone says, ‘But what about abusive marriages?’ Counting down, 3-2-1 …”
Do you see that bringing up abusive marriages in this context is changing the subject? The subject is the child and the impact divorce had on him or her. Whether the marriage was abusive or the divorce was justified: These are subjects for another time.
The children of divorce deserve to have at least a few minutes where their experience is the primary subject. “What about abuse?” shuts down the child and his or her perspective.
It is true, however, that sometimes people bring up the question of abuse as a justification for divorce in good faith. Perhaps those asking the question want to know what public policy should be on the issue. Or maybe they want to know how to think about an abuse situation they’ve encountered in which divorce otherwise may not be an option.
I’ve noticed that the person asking a good-faith question is generally satisfied with a good-faith answer. “No, in a truly abusive situation, a woman may have a responsibility to herself and her children to create physical separation between herself and her husband. That may ultimately include civil divorce.”
But some people are not satisfied with such an answer — or with any answer, really. In such cases, the woman (and it is almost always a woman) will desperately recount the abuse. She will urgently tell me more than I wanted to know. She ratchets up her description of the horrors of her marriage, although it doesn’t usually come to physical danger. The final blow is: “You don’t understand! How dare you judge me?!”
I also have another sort of experience of women telling me about their abusive husbands: Often times the husband is a sex addict committing multiple infidelities, violent to the point of throwing furniture through walls, or the spouses’ daughters feel creeped out by their fathers’ pornography addictions. These women don’t need my assurance on the right or prudent thing to do, although I gladly give it.
These same women don’t flip out when I say, “Divorce is hard on children.” They already know that. That is why they worked so hard to preserve the marriage. But, given the circumstances, they are at peace with themselves and their decision.
What is the difference between these two types of responses — the one irrational and angry, the other calm and reflective?
My working assumption is that the first group has unfinished business with their divorce. Maybe they are not really sure it was abusive. Maybe they had a new boyfriend waiting in the wings, whose significance they diminish by shouting, “Abuse!”
Somehow, in some way, their conscience is bothering them. They don’t want to believe they inflicted unnecessary pain on their children. No matter how many times Leila Miller or I assure them that abused spouses can remove themselves, they can’t hear it.
Honestly, I don’t care how they treat me. I bet Miller doesn’t either. What bothers me is that these parents cannot hear what their children want to say to them, need to say to them and have every right to say to them.
These parents have grown deaf to their children by feeling sorry for themselves and by not thinking about the impact of their behavior on others — especially their children. They weaponize self-pity, using it as both a shield and a projectile. Argue with them and you will get blasted with the sad story of their lives.
Divorced parents, if your adult children are trying to talk to you about a long-ago divorce, I’m begging you: Set self-pity aside. Whatever problems you may have in your lives, self-pity will not help you solve them. You will be happier without it. And you will be more available to listen to your children, who may really need you.
The weaponizing of self-pity is on high display in another arena of recent public discourse when priests come out as “gay” and tell a sad story about life
“in the closet.” Part 2 will discuss that in greater detail.
Posted on: Monday, September 25, 2017
Interview with Brenda Baietto, Esq., (left) coauthor with Jennifer Johnson (right) on the American Bar Association Journal article advocating for Family Structure Equality
I was blessed with an opportunity to coauthor an important article for the American Bar Association Journal regarding the “family structure equality” argument I make in my book, Marriage and Equality.
Brenda Baietto, Esq., of Tampa Mediations, is the lawyer who spearheaded this opportunity. She reached out to me in May. We worked collaboratively to get the article published, and it was published in September. You can read the article here.
I want to introduce Brenda to our Ruth Institute audience. Here is an interview I conducted with her about the article.
Jennifer Johnson (JJ): Tell me about the opportunity you had to write for the ABA Journal. When and how did that opportunity arise?
Brenda Baietto (BB): This opportunity arose back in May of this year as a result of a very good friend of mine named Florence M. Johnson, Esq who I met in law school and have stayed friends with since.She is an accomplished litigation attorney in Memphis TN, active in her local and state Bars, the national American Bar Association (ABA) and, for the last year or so has headed the Practice Pointers section of the Minority Trial Law Section of Litigation for the ABA.She asked me to consider writing a practice pointer piece on mediation for the target audience of trial lawyers.She wanted to give me an opportunity because she is a generous person and trusted me that I would produce a solid piece.
JJ: Of all the interesting people and legal topics you could have chosen to write with and about, why did you pick me and the "family structure equality" (FSE) that I make in my book?
BB: I picked you and your argument to write about because after reading it I knew you had put to words concepts that had been ﬂoating around in my head for some time especially as these concepts relate to family law, speciﬁcally divorce.And you were so very authentic.Your personal story has big impact precisely because it is so real.It cuts to the heart.More to it, after the decision in Obergefell [Editor’s note: Obergefell was the Supreme Court decision in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States], it was becoming more and more common to hear (from potential clients, other attorneys and in continuing legal ed seminars) about the creation and dismantling of new and different family structures and that these new structures have legal protection, deserve legal protection - all this with no discussion about the children other than an underlying belief that when adults are happy so are kids.So the predominant theme I am seeing in my legal community and reading about nationally is to support these new structures strictly based on compassion/sentiment for adult choices.It was surprising to me.
Your topic touched on these issues and I knew I had something to add.It was just a matter of putting it together such that it could ﬁt into what Florence was asking of me.Since it was not going to ﬁt into a practice pointer context, we discussed making it a short article and submitting it for consideration.
JJ: Your insight was to apply the FSE argument to the "best interests of the child standard." Why is that standard a good area to apply the FSE argument?
BB: In the context of divorce law, the best interest of the child standard is something we family lawyers and judges really see as the cornerstone of child custody/timesharing decisions. Judges and lawyers take very seriously their respective roles in determining what exactly is in the best interest of a child and work with a generous spirit to do what they think is “best.”However, the best interest standard traditionally focuses on “factors” that spring from either a previously accepted or “legal” arrangement whether or not the arrangement is “good” in and of itself for the child or from a decision to divorce which is accepted without question.Never are these accepted arrangements or decisions analyzed from a best interest of the child standard and it seems only logical to do so.Jennifer’s article made that easy because it gracefully begs the issue of what is in the best interest of the child and highlights a glaring deﬁciency in limiting the best interest standard to a sort of “after the fact” analysis.
JJ: What do you foresee as a positive outcome that can happen in the life of a child if a judge relies on the FSE argument?
BB: It is my belief that with rampant no fault divorce as well as the emergence of more and more diverse “family systems,” as they are called, children are being valued more as a commodity and not as human persons with dignity.In surrogacy contract cases, for example, children are property and where a dispute over custody arises between the surrogate and the buyer, many state laws subject the child only to property laws based on the contract and refuse to even entertain a best interest analysis at all.This loss of dignity brings with it the loss of understanding of what is truly in their best interest as humans who are alive in society as children, teens and adults.How we see children’s best interest is part and parcel of how we see the best interest of the family in society.
If judges and lawyers begin relying on the FSE argument several positive outcomes will result:ﬁrst, society will have to face the very real issues children suffer as a result of no fault divorce and diverse family structures including the grief so many adult children have experienced due to structural inequality.This could very well lead to a renewed interest in natural marriage and a rethinking of the import of children in society; second, the “best interest” standard will broaden and deepen bringing meaningful protections to children who as of now are wholly subject to the whims and desires of adults; third, the legal system will no longer be a wedge between a child and his biological parents blocking a child’s most natural desire to know who he is and creating stressors in the child that he would never dream could happen, i.e. will I marry my sister without realizing it? ; and ﬁnally, and so important, children will regain their dignity as humans and not a “thing” that is more and more being viewed only as a byproduct of adult desires.
JJ: Why do you think the Minority Trial Lawyers picked up the article, and not some other group within the ABA Journal?
BB: Because, as I understand better now and did not realize before, my friend Florence is particularly involved with the Minority Trial Lawyer section and she submitted the article directly through that channel. I do think, however, it is a gift that the article is published in the Minority Trial Lawyer Section.The FSE argument is meaningful to minorities when it is part and parcel of an overall understanding of the disproportionate impact of the welfare state on black families followed by the legalization of abortion in 1973 which had and continues to have a devastating effect of the black family. Supporting policies that reverse these programs and encourages a return to the natural triad family will help strengthen inequalities felt by children in the black community and begin to create generations that are more stable.
“According to a recent PEW report, 48% of nonwhites want to get married but say ﬁnancial instability is the reason they do not.One factor, which must be taken into account, is the disproportionate impact of the welfare state following the civil rights movement. Major welfare programs established in the late 1960s, which required recipients to be unmarried to qualify, followed shortly thereafter by the legalization of abortion in 1973, had a devastating effect on the black family.Data we have today should provoke a sense of urgency to focus policy on reversing the damage done by years of programs that have hurt the very low-income communities they were supposed to help.” From: https://townhall.com/columnists/starparker/2017/09/20/marriage-collapse-white-andblack-n2383765
We need policies that protect life and encourage marriage, ownership and individual responsibility and that includes the FSE argument.
JJ: Is there anything else you want our audience to know about the article?
BB: I want the audience to know that the truths in this article must get out into the world and be discussed.This article is a ﬁrst step to beginning a dialogue that heretofore was just not done and can focus on real analysis and exchange about the welfare of the family and children. Even more than that, it is about each of us living the truth of the natural family and letting others know that you do so in a spirit of love and devotion to the Lord whose precepts we accept and live out loudly.
Posted on: Monday, September 25, 2017
by Jennifer Johnson (left) and Brenda A. Baietto, Esq.
This article was first published September 11, 2017, at Americanbar.org.
Due to no-fault divorce and "diverse family structures," children often experience a form of inequality that is largely ignored. With lawyers and judges focused on a liberty that is defined as adults' happiness with their family structure choices, there is little focus on the inequalities these choices create for children. The legal profession readily supports the thinking that a happy adult makes for a happy child, yet we disregard a century of jurisprudence linking the state's interest in natural marriage to children and their formation and the substantial body of literature linking children and communities flourishing with the stable presence within a family of married, biological parents. Nor does the "best interests of the child" standard address this form of structural inequality. Finally, it is only fair to consider the testimonies of the children affected, especially once they are old enough to separate appropriately from their parents, examine their childhoods in an objective manner, and then decide for themselves how fair and just it was.
Family Structure Equality for Children
There is a kind of equality for children that deserves attention. It is called "family structure equality." It is the idea that most children should have the same kind of family structure, one founded on the lifelong marriage of their own married mother and father, also known as natural marriage. This is humanity's anthropological truth, our foundation—preexisting the law of marriage. Diagrammatically, this is represented as an inverted triangle, with the couple's child or children at the third point. This triad, in line with overwhelming social science evidence (both past and present), is the family structure that best ensures equality for children—equality of love, belonging, and security. When the family breaks down or doesn't form according to the triad, the inequalities for children multiply. Here are three ways this happens.
1. Two half-time dads do not equal one full dad. When parents divorce, a child can spend his or her childhood going back and forth between "two homes." If both parents remarry, that child can conceivably have a male father figure in each home. So the child has two half-time dads: a dad and a step-dad. For that child, however, having two half-time dads does not equal having one full-time dad. To a casual observer, it might seem as though the child being with each of them half the time would be the same as having one whole dad. But for one of the authors of this article, Jennifer Johnson, who was raised by divorced parents, it was not:
I am not 100 percent sure how I came to this realization, but I do remember thinking it as I stood in the driveway one day when I was about 12 years old. I remember feeling terrible about the messed-up nature of my family, how alone I was in it, and how it was never going to change.
Perhaps I came to this realization because I was an eyewitness to what a full-time dad looked like. My step-dad was a full-time dad to my half-sister. She lived with both her married parents, my mom and my step-dad. I could see that what she had and what I had were two different things. In each home, I needed to pretend that my other parent (and that parent's family) did not exist, meaning they were not welcome. Family photos of other people's whole families were on the walls, but not of my whole family. Group family photos were taken and hung on the walls, but I wasn't in them. I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided birthdays. While all this was going on for me, I am acknowledging everybody's mother and father and their whole families. But mine was not acknowledged. Thus, I had no real sense of family and home.
Jennifer Johnson, Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children (Ruth Institute 2017).
2. Non-triad arrangements. Other types of non-triad arrangements have inequalities as well. Children who are conceived from anonymous gametes must pretend that half of who they are does not exist.
If the parents were raised inside the intact triad, then there is an inequality between the parents and the children because there are two different standards being applied. The child must pretend that half of himself or herself does not exist, while the child's parents do not. A study was conducted in 2010 of young adults who had been conceived through sperm donation. Two-thirds of them agreed with this statement: "My sperm donor is half of who I am." Elizabeth Marquardt et al., My Daddy's Name Is Donor: A New Study of Young Adults Conceived Through Sperm Donation (Inst. for Am. Values 2010).
"It's going to be heartbreaking for him (Zachary) to grow up and realise he hasn't got a mummy." —Elton John (quoted in Sarah Nathan, "It Will Break My Son's Heart to Realise He Hasn't Got a Mother," Daily Mail, July 15, 2012).
The wedge between a child and the gamete donor represents the legal system. It permanently blocks children from knowing half of their family trees. In some cases, this includes falsifying the child's birth certificate with the social parent's name. Consider the additional stressors these kids endure:
Who is my donor?
Who are my half-siblings?
Will our paths cross?
Will I accidentally marry one of them?
This is an inequality in their family structure that neither their parents nor their peers share, with stressors that their parents and their peers can hardly even imagine.
3. Disenfranchised grief. If a child thinks or feels something about the inequality he or she experiences, the child's thoughts and feelings may not be welcome. To welcome those thoughts and feelings might cast doubt on the structure of the family and call into question the adults' freedom to make those choices. Thus, the child suffers a disenfranchised grief, one not accepted by the wider culture. Part of the healing process for these people is having the freedom to talk about the inequalities without being judged or pathologized. This is a kind of equality that is now denied in the popular culture.
Even if our society agreed with all of this, there would still be a small amount of structural inequality among children. Death, rape, ignorance, and human weakness mean that some family structure inequality will always exist. Adoption serves as a remedy for this kind of inequality because it provides parents to children who need them.
We must distinguish between adoption and other instances where children are not being raised with their own married parents. Anonymous gamete donation, for example, is not analogous to adoption. It is when adults want to become parents and use money and business contracts to create children. Consider the screening process. In adoption, adults are screened. Those who are deemed unfit to be parents are excluded, at least in principle. In anonymous gamete donation, the children are screened. Those deemed unfit to be children are aborted, thrown away as embryos, or permanently frozen. Adults with enough money can be parents using this technology, including those with criminal histories or personality disorders. People with criminal histories and personality disorders can become parents under natural marriage, but they must secure the cooperation of the child's other genetic parent, which mitigates the child's risks.
The Legal Community's Responsibility
The "best interests of the child" standard, which is used where there are custody and time-sharing disputes, focuses on individual "fitness" to parent or what parenting arrangement would benefit a child in the future (or both). It does not address the family structure itself. Nearly all states share a codified list of factors to determine the best interests of the child that serves to remind parents of their parental responsibility to the child—"while marriages and relationships may dissolve, parents are forever." Implicitly, the assumption is that children need "parents," but what that means is untethered from familial structural equality and tied more closely to the freedom of adults to make those choices, regardless of the social science.
St. Pope John Paul II has said that the future of the world passes through the family. If, in that future, our children grow up accustomed to inequality and injustice, what can they pass on to the next generation? Adult children of divorce and other non-triad arrangements are speaking out. It is incumbent on us to review that literature, whether it is the six adult children of gay parents who filed amicus briefs against gay marriage in the Obergefell case or the video by Zach Wahls advocating for his lesbian parents and separately pointing out the joy of having and knowing about a biological sister (a shared sperm donor) or author Jennifer Johnson's testimony about her negative experiences with no-fault divorce. See also Leila Miller's new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak (LCB Publishing 2017).
The legal community is ethically bound to uphold truth and justice for all citizens—adults and children. We have accepted children's inequality as part of the landscape of contractual families that provide unbridled freedom to the adult. Should the legal community reevaluate when to apply the best interest standard? Should it be applied before an adult is given autonomy with a child's family structure? Can a guardian ad litem focus on these inequalities and be a source of education for parents? Are the child's true best interests being sacrificed at the time an alternative family is founded, where that child is without any legal protection? We in the legal community must reevaluate our duty to children when we are involved in the formation and dismantling of families.
Jennifer Johnson is the associate director for the Ruth Institute. She was raised by divorced parents and is the author of Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children. Brenda A. Baietto, Esq. is a family law attorney and mediator for Tampa Mediations, LLC, in Tampa, Florida.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 02, 2017
by Leslie Fain
This article was first published at Catholic World Report on July 7, 2017.
In cases of divorce as well as same-sex marriage, our culture is more concerned about sexual happiness for adults than about what happens to kids.
Jennifer Johnson, director of the Ruth Institute’s Children of Divorce Project, is the author of Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children, a short book that presents the case for natural marriage based on equality. It is one of two new books by Catholic authors on the subject of divorce and its effects on children; CWR also interviewed Leila Miller, author of Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, about her book.
CWR: In your book you lay out the case that in the fight over same-sex marriage, the arguments most often presented in favor of traditional marriage, although not wrong, did not win the day because they did not appeal to people’s sense of justice. Can you explain?
Jennifer Johnson: Our movement is beset with internal contradictions that worked against us. We tried to make an argument about children by saying things like, “Kids need a mom and a dad.” This is a perfectly true statement, but given our sexually lax culture, it takes too much for granted. For example, from the point of view of the child, what is the difference between the following two scenarios? A child living in “two homes” where the mom and step-dad are in one home, and the dad and step-mom are in the other home; a child living in “two homes” where the mom and lesbian lover are in one home, and the dad and gay step-dad are in the other home.
Both situations fulfill the slogan “Kids need a mom and a dad.” So the complementarity of the sexes is present in the child’s life, at least in principle. So simply saying that “kids need a mom and a dad” does not account for divorce, remarriage, out of wedlock childbearing, and anonymous sperm and egg donation. Why should children raised under those scenarios go along with the argument for complementarity of the sexes when their own experience of complementarity has been diluted or harmed without protest from social conservatives?
CWR: Can you describe the inspiration for developing your argument?
Johnson: I have a devotion to the Holy Family and I pray from time to time for wisdom in defending marriage and the family. One day I was looking at an image of [the Holy Family] and I saw a triangle between all of their heads. And I thought, “Wow, the family structure is a triangle!” There are a lot of details that I explain in my book, but the short version is that I saw how the Sexual Revolution has meant that more and more children are not raised inside of their own “triangle” of mother, father, children. I like being able to use the triangle to explain our argument, since it makes the argument very visual and easy to understand.
CWR: I know we can’t do it justice in this brief interview, but in a nutshell, how does natural marriage uphold structural equality for children?
Johnson: “Structural equality” is a phrase I use to describe what historic Christian sexual ethics provides to children. We don’t have to quote any Bible verses to understand how natural marriage provides a legitimate form of equality for children, and how the inequalities among children multiply when a culture disregards natural marriage and historic Christian sexual ethics. I list a number of structural inequalities in my book drawn from my own life experiences as a child of divorce. For example, there is a structural inequality when it comes to grief. Kids raised outside the marriage of their own mother and father are not permitted to openly grieve that loss. They are required to endorse whatever family arrangement their parents have chosen and are not permitted to feel anything about it other than what the parents want them to feel.
Another form of structural inequality among children who are raised outside the marriage of their own mother and father is that they have to pretend that half of themselves does not exist. For example, a child of divorce must pretend that his mother does not exist when he is in his father’s home, and he has to pretend that his father does not exist while in his mother’s home. In each home, family photos won’t show the child’s full family. This is confusing in its own right, but it gets compounded because the parents don’t have to do that same thing—family photos on display in the home will show the parents mothers and fathers, and those corresponding family members (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). There is no home where the child’s full family is on display.
Looking at the photos on the walls is a good way to see the kind of dynamic the child is living under.
CWR: You are a child of divorce yourself, more than one time over. There is a poignant scene you paint in your book in which you have the epiphany that your family isn’t like other families. Can you tell us about that?
Johnson: There were two times that I had painful realizations about my family structure, and they are related. The first was when I was 12. I was standing in the driveway at my mom’s home and I had a realization that something was terribly wrong with how my family was structured but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My mother had remarried and had a new child with this new husband. I could see that what this child had and what I had were two different things.
The other painful realization proved to be the answer to the first one. It was when I saw the triangle between the heads of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that I mentioned above. I was in my late 40s when this happened. I went home that evening and applied the triangle concept to my situation by drawing it all out. I had no idea what to expect, but ended up being extremely shocked and saddened by what I saw. My family structure was not the simple triangle that I had seen. It looked more like a malformed spider’s web. It was ugly and I felt ashamed of it. Later in the book, I explain the way that God used this image to show me other important things about what the radical Left is doing to marriage and family. So God had a plan, even though at the time I had no idea what it could be.
CWR: In my interview with Leila Miller, she talked about adult children of divorce being afraid to tell their parents how they felt about the divorce. You refer to this as “disenfranchised grief,” another form of inequality. Can you explain this phenomenon?
Johnson: There is a socially-approved divorce narrative that everybody follows. It goes like this, roughly speaking: “Kids are resilient. Babies are blank slates. They don’t care about their family structure. They don’t care if their mother is in bed with somebody who is not their father. They don’t care if their father is in bed with somebody who is not their mother. They don’t mind shuttling back and forth between ‘two homes.’ They don’t mind when their parent spends more time with a new love interest and new children than with them. They don’t care about subsequent divorces. Any problems they have after the divorce are due to their own character flaws or mental disorders, and are thus avoidable or treatable. In no way are post-divorce problems due to the divorce. If you question divorce and remarriage, you will be labeled with a psychiatric disorder.”
This narrative is profoundly anti-science. The social science data is very clear that divorce is a huge problem for children, and it dramatically elevates many risk factors for negative outcomes. [But the narrative is upheld] in the face of the data because our culture is more concerned about sexual happiness for adults than about what happens to kids because of the pursuit of that sort of happiness.
CWR: You write that natural marriage creates structural equality for children. When children are raised without the protection of natural marriage, these inequalities multiply. Can you explain how that happens?
Johnson: I have identified a number of inequalities. Two of them are best described as horizontal inequality and vertical inequality. Horizontal refers to siblings or peers. Vertical refers to parents. When the horizontal form of inequality is present among siblings, they are treated differently from each other with respect to how their family is structured. It is present with half-siblings and step-siblings, not full-blooded siblings. For example, one half-sibling may live in a unified home with both his mother and his father who are married while another half-sibling is living in “two homes.” This was the arrangement that I had as a child.
For the vertical form, it means that parents have created a family structure for their children that is worse and more chaotic than what their parents created for them. For example, the parents may have been raised with their own married parents in a unified home, but as adults they are not raising their children with the children’s other genetic parent, and the children [may be] living in “two homes.” They are treating their children worse in this respect than how their parents treated them.
CWR: Your argument not only applies to children of divorce, but also children of same-sex marriage and third-party reproduction. What are some examples of inequality in those cases?
Johnson: In many respects, the inequalities are similar in all three of those situations; it is what happens when genetic parents reject each other. One genetic parent is excluded from daily life for the child of divorce, the child of same-sex parenting, and the child of third-party reproduction. The child must pretend that this half of himself does not exist, since it is unwelcome. This half of the child’s family won’t be seen in family photos in display in the home.
In the case of third-party reproduction, these kids have some of the same issues that adoptees face, such as wondering who they look like and, by law, not having access to their full genetic family tree. They have the added burden of not knowing how many half-siblings they have, and whether or not they might meet one, date one, or marry one. In this respect, it is actually worse than polygamy. In polygamy, at least the kids know who their half-siblings are.
CWR: Who would benefit from reading Marriage and Equality?
Johnson: I think it is good for anybody interested in family policy issues, anybody raised outside of the marriage of their own mother and father, and anybody who believes that equality is an important ideal.
CWR: Not only are you a child of divorce, but you are also a divorced parent. You write that like post-abortive parents and doctors, those who have participated in family breakdown should realize the harm done, and speak out for positive change. What suggestions do you have for a divorced parent who reads your book, or Miller’s book, and wants to make amends?
Johnson: The child’s other genetic parent is half of who the child is, so always make sure that the child knows that you have not rejected that half of them. If possible, try to make amends with that person and to develop a relationship with them. At an age-appropriate time, ask the child how they feel about the arrangement under which they were raised and make sure they can speak openly and honestly. Be prepared to hear things that you might not like to hear, and always apologize for assuming things that were not true (“Babies are blank slates,” “Kids are resilient,” etc.). Be willing to have the child’s other genetic parent be part of family events and family photos, since they are half of who the child is. Finally, become an advocate for just family structures for children.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 02, 2017
by Rachel Lu
This article was first published July 18, 2017, at Crisis Magazine.
“As a kid I was always sad and always trying to keep everyone else happy. I felt like I had to be one person when I was with my dad and another when I was with my mom.”
So says an anonymous child of divorce, describing how her parents’ divorce impacted her childhood. She is one of seventy anonymous narrators of Leila Miller’s new book, Primal Loss, which offers first-hand narratives of the experiences of now-grown children of divorce. Together with Jennifer Johnson, author of Marriage and Equality, Miller is working to rejuvenate a national discussion about the devastating impacts that family breakdown can have on the lives of children.
The topic of divorce has been oddly eclipsed in recent years within the public square. Homosexuality, transgenderism, polyamory, and other novelties have become the frontline issues of the culture wars. Divorce is an old topic, which is also less controversial than in days of yore. Once, Americans argued about the impact of divorce on kids, suggesting that childhood “resilience” might make it excusable to prioritize adult relationships. Sociologically, there’s not much disagreement anymore that kids suffer when their families break apart.
Progressive elites have responded to that realization by working to stabilize their own marriages, fashioning a “neo-traditional” arrangement that is overall fairly stable. That pattern isn’t trickling down, however. Less prosperous Americans are far less likely to marry, and considerably more likely to divorce. In general, liberals don’t seem very interested in discussing this reality. They treat it as a sad inevitability, and make little effort to help working-class Americans enjoy the same communal and social benefits that are available to their own children. Regrettably, that trend has extended to the Church itself, where attention has recently been focused on the accommodations that some would like to make for the divorced. Shouldn’t we be devoting more of those energies to saving marriages?
Miller and Johnson think so. Their books potentially offer a fruitful pairing, especially for Catholics with an interest in this general topic. Miller’s book offers an extended look into the experiences of children of divorce, while Johnson explores some of the arguments for why divorce is unjust to children, and a driver of greater inequality in society at large.
The idea behind Primal Loss is quite simple. Miller sent eight questions to seventy different respondents, all the now-grown offspring of married couples who eventually divorced. What effect has your parents’ divorce had on you? Has your parents’ divorce affected your own marriage or your view of marriage? Are children really “resilient”? What do you most want others to know about how divorce affects children? The book compiles their answers.
Both the differences and the similarities are interesting. Some people, despite their loss, have ultimately achieved a healthy perspective on life and (especially) marriage. Others still struggle to establish healthy relationships, with one man saying he has “holes that will never be filled this side of Heaven.” Some respondents are bitter, while others are more circumspect. A few seem to think that one parent was mostly blameless for the divorce, and even that divorce was better for the parents or family in the long run. (Most often that was connected to very severe problems with one parent, who posed a serious physical threat.) A larger number seem to think that the divorce represented a traumatic event in their parents’ lives as well as their own.
Regardless of the specifics, it’s clear that the cost to children is always significant when the two people who created them decide they want nothing more to do with each other.
Some of the saddest episodes in the book come from people whose parents divorced when they were young children, initially unable to understand what was happening. One remembers telling his friends eagerly how, “We’re getting a divorce!” not knowing what that meant. Many were told as children how the divorce would represent an exciting adventure, or a bright new chapter for the family. In reality, these blithe reassurances are just additional demands that divorcing adults too often place on their children. Even as their whole world fractures, we ask kids to pretend that everything is wonderful, to spare their parents from feelings of guilt.
The unfairness of that demand is a major focus of Johnson’s book. Because the natal family is almost a child’s whole world, the rupture that divorce represents is cataclysmic. Nevertheless, adults expect “resilient” children to accommodate themselves to adult needs and interests, moving between homes and avoiding references that would be painful to their parents’. One respondent remembers congratulating his mother warmly at the end of each day when she “didn’t cry.” Another recalls being told that she and her siblings needed to live with her mother instead of her father because her mother “needed them more.” Is it right to make children the support structure for their parents? It often happens after a divorce.
There are a thousand painful details in both of these books, reminding us of what life is actually like for kids experiencing this kind of loss. For children of divorce, holidays and vacations often cease to be occasions of joy, instead becoming fractious reminders of family brokenness. Adults are permitted to fill their houses with pictures of everyone they love, but the children are expected to divide their photographs and memories into two sets, ensuring their parents’ greater comfort. Their own pain becomes a lonely and isolating secret.
Adults often have a variety of options for rebuilding their lives and identities, or at least seeking reassurance and support. For children, family separation gets written into their lives at a much more elemental level, and they have no real choice but to accept this. This is another serious injustice, as Johnson emphasizes again and again.
In both of these books, it’s remarkable and heartbreaking to see how a truth that Christians express in Biblical and even metaphysical terms (“the two shall become one flesh”) is felt in a concrete way in the lives of the descendants of “divided flesh.” For many of them, the natural permanence of marriage is a haunting truth that was etched across their childhood through their parents’ persistent attempts to deny it. On some very deep level, they were asked to build their childhoods around a lie.
Our failure to respond properly to these injustices, Johnson argues, has set the stage for further assaults on the traditional family. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment. The silver lining is that renewed attention to the issue of permanence might yield a whole range of fruits over the longer run. For instance, I have found anecdotally (and studies seems to confirm) that Millennials are extremely sympathetic to same-sex couples wanting to marry, but that they view divorce quite negatively overall. If same-sex couples have difficulty with permanence, that might influence public views of same-sex “marriage” over the long term.
More immediately, though, we should work harder to ensure that parents across the nation understand the grim effects that divorce can have on children.
Many do survive the experience and go on to live successful lives, but that’s not a good excuse for forcing children to shoulder the burdens of fractured
adult relationships. These two books provide a compelling argument for choosing a better path, in the Church and in our own lives.
Posted on: Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Our main objective with this survey was to see if our audience has a basic understanding of our mission. I'm pleased to see that, yes, you do! More
than 90% of you agree that the list of issues we tackle are indeed related.
The second question was like the first. We asked people to identify which of those issues seemed least compatible with the others. Almost 60% of the respondents indicated that the issues were equally compatible with one another.
For the third question, we asked participates which issue was most important to them. It's probably no surprise that abortion had the highest number of
responses. Third party reproduction/surrogacy had no responses.
This tells me that we should think carefully about how to logically link abortion to the other issues. My colleague Jennifer Johnson did this recently in an interview with Jim Graves at National Catholic Register. She drew an interesting parallel between abortion and no-fault divorce:
In both cases, the State sides with one person (the pregnant mother, the petitioner in a no-fault divorce action) to uphold or enforce the action that the person wants (the abortion, the no-fault divorce), while simultaneously providing no legal defense for the other person (the unborn child, the respondent in the divorce action). The individual who wants the action (of the abortion or to be divorced) must be “freed” from every restraint that he does not explicitly want.
The more we can do this, the more it will help people understand the destructive nature of the Sexual Revolution and how much power it has given the State.
For the fourth question, we asked people which issue they want to learn more about. The answers were more evenly distributed than any other answer in this
For the fifth question, we asked if the terms “sexual revolution” and “sexual liberation” were meaningful to people. The majority of respondents said yes to this question.
Finally, we allowed people to leave optional remarks about our mission. About 45% of the survey participants left remarks, and they were almost 100% positive. Here are just a few things people said about the mission of the Ruth Institute:
“I really appreciate your integrated approach to all of these issues…”
“You are awesome! Keep up your important mission and never give up. Your message needs to be heard...”
“… Everyone seems to have capitulated on no-fault divorce, and I'm really excited that your organization - any organization! - is even raising the issue that no-fault divorce is not just something we should accept blindly.”
“I was going to say no to the last question, but I realized that after my parents’ divorce back in the 1970s, I got to live out the full implications of this ‘revolt’ leading to bondage (not freedom) with all of the resultant pain & chaos in its wake.”
“I admire the work you do as a Catholic moral theologian.”
“You guys are amazing! I am 16 and I love reading your newsletters. You are so inspiring!”
There are many other like these. Thank you to everybody who participated!
Posted on: Wednesday, June 28, 2017
by Fr. Mark Hodges
AUSTIN, Texas, May 22, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — Two bisexual women and one man proclaim threesome marriage “should be the future of relationships” and that their threesome parenting is “setting a good example.”
Adam Lyons, 36, lives openly with two women, 28-year-old Brooke Shedd — with whom he has a two-year-old son, and 27-year-old Jane Shalakhova — who is eight months’ pregnant with his third son. He already has a seven-year-old stepson from yet another relationship.
“Three parents are better than two,” Lyons told the New York Post. “It enables us to manage daily life so much better.”
He says he notices “normal” two-person couples are often exhausted and struggle to keep up with work and children. “With three people, it’s logistically so much easier. … We share out the responsibilities, and it fits our sexual preferences too.”
“This should be the future of relationships, where people are able to enjoy love in any way they feel works,” Lyons advocated. “Three people and three parents makes so much sense to us.”
The unmarried polygamous arrangement has been going on for five years, which proves, Lyons says, “we’re a real family with healthy, happy kids.” All three say they are “setting a good example” for Lyons’ stepson, Oliver.
All three also admit they occasionally bring in a fourth sex partner. “We’re still open to fun when it comes along,” Lyons said. “We do sleep with other people outside the three of us” and “if we wanted to add someone, I’m sure we could.”
“We still make time to go to strip clubs together,” Shalakhova happily added. “We just hang out and have fun there.”
Shedd hints at a possible future political front in the culture wars. “I would definitely love to get married to Adam and Jane. It’s something we’ve always wanted, even though it’s not legal.”
Shedd says one thing is certain. “We definitely want a few more kids.”
Pro-marriage and family advocates say the threesome are in delusion.
“This is a form of child abuse, pure and simple,” National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown told LifeSiteNews. “A child has a mother and father … period. To introduce an additional sexual partner into the home is to create confusion and chaos for an innocent child.”
Brown said this proves what opponents of homosexual “marriage” knew all along.
“We predicted that this would be the next step with the court creating the legal fiction of same-sex ‘marriage:’ This is a further step down the path of sacrificing children’s real needs to the sexual desires of parents.”
“I pray for the children who are being robbed of their innocence in such a home,” Brown added.
Dr. Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, expressed concern to LifeSiteNews over a lack of stability for the children.
“From a social scientific perspective, this is an inherently unstable arrangement — and we know stability is good for children,” the professor explained.
“Adding children to the ‘mix’ is likely to destabilize the (polyamorous) arrangement, whereas it often functions to unite a marriage between a man and a woman,” Regnerus observed.
Jennifer Johnson, the Ruth Institute’s director of the Children of Divorce Project, has seen the damaging effects of non-traditional family structures on children.
“These adults have created a structural inequality for the children and are celebrating it,” she explained to LifeSiteNews. “This is very typical for adults in our culture, who place their sexual liberty ahead of family structure equality for their children.”
“Family structure equality means that kids are raised with their own married mother and father, and that they don’t have step and half siblings to contend with,” Johnson illustrated. “Mom, dad, kids. That is equality from the child’s point of view.”
Johnson’s book, Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children, notes:
“Children are observant. Any school-aged child can see which of them live with their own married parents and which do not. They can see that some kids know and are connected to both halves of their origins, and others are not. If a particular child thinks or feels something about the inequality in which he finds himself, his thoughts and feelings may not be welcome. This is because they cannot be welcome. To welcome those thoughts and feelings might cast doubt upon the structure of the family itself.”
This inner disconnect is most often only acknowledged years later, once the damage is done to the child.
“For example, the now-adult children of unilateral divorce are finding their voices and beginning to speak out,” Johnson said. “They were silent for many years because of not wanting to hurt their parents, feeling too afraid to reveal their true feelings, and feeling isolated.”
Johnson says the pain, insecurity, and inner conflict that adult children of non-traditional family structures witness to shows that polygamous arrangements like Lyons, Shedd, and Shalakhova’s are deeply harmful.
“They are now telling their stories, and what they have to say isn’t pretty,” Johnson said. “It will undermine the belief that ‘kids are resilient.’”
The current generation is cursing the coming generation with an unbearable psychological and emotional (and sexual) burden.
“I will not be surprised when all the other kids of other kinds of family structure inequality also grow up, find their voices, and tell the ugly truth about what it was like to have their own intact families sacrificed on the altar of sexual liberation,” Johnson added.
Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg pointed out that if Lyons’ “arrangement” is true, it confirms the many warnings of concerned Christians.
“Those of us who opposed the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples were routinely mocked for making ‘slippery slope’ arguments suggesting that such eliminating the male-female requirement for marriage would lead to further redefinitions, such as eliminating the requirement that marriage be limited to two people,” the senior fellow for policy studies told LifeSiteNews. “The slope is proving even more slippery than I might have imagined.”
Sprigg echoed his pro-family colleagues’ concern for the children.
“Living in a household with their mother, father, and another woman they also refer to as ‘Mom’ is likely to create confusion about their place in the world,” he explained. “As they grow older, there may well be rivalries between the half-siblings who have different mothers — as is clearly seen in the polygamous families of the Old Testament.”
Furthermore, polygamous relationships are unstable, Sprigg says.
“This ‘throuple’ is even more likely to eventually break up than a typical married couple, which can cause lasting trauma to a child,” he said. “While they present a rosy picture in this article, it is almost inevitable that jealousies would arise in this situation.”
“That’s not to mention the destructive role model of self-indulgent promiscuity that these three are providing for the children in their home,” the family advocate added.
“I would think that it is not only conservatives who should be concerned about such an arrangement, but feminists as well,” Sprigg noted. “One rarely hears of a woman sharing a household with multiple male sexual partners. If this model were to spread, it would mean more men would have difficulty finding wives, and a surplus of unmarried men in a society is a recipe for instability.”
“The one-man, one-woman model of marriage is one of the most egalitarian social institutions,” Sprigg concluded, “because it maximizes the likelihood that everyone, regardless of social status, will be able to find a suitable mate.”
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2017
Changes in marriage and family life result in inequality for children.
by Jennifer Johnson
This article was first published March 14, 2017, at Mercatornet.com.
Marriage, family and sexual equality are subjects that have all been extensively aired. Ironically, the discussion is often led by people who are creating another form of inequality, that foisted upon the children of new versions of the family.
In a special report for the Ruth Institute, Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality … for Children, Jennifer Johnson describes her own experience of the inequality of a broken home, and challenges society to face the injustice that children suffer when only adult desires are taken into account. The following are slightly edited excerpts from her essay.
* * * *
I was not raised with my own married parents. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos.
Reflecting on this experience in the light of the “marriage equality” debate I have come to understand better one of the fundamental flaws in the argument for same-sex marriage, and at the same time the flawed arguments for divorce, donor conception, surrogacy and other departures from natural marriage: the inequality these create for children.
I define “natural marriage” as life-long marriage between one man and one woman who are open to procreating their own children through their lovemaking.
Diagrammatically I represent these relationships as an inverted triangle, with the couple’s child or children at the third point of the triangle. This triad, I argue, in line with social science evidence, is the family structure that best ensures equality for children – equality of love, belonging, identity and security.
That’s a type of equality that people don’t talk about so much, but it is real. And there are other equalities that flow out of that one. When the family breaks down or doesn’t form according to the triad, the inequalities for children multiply. Here are three ways this happens.
Two half-time dads do not equal one full dad
When I was growing up, my parents were divorced, so I spent my entire childhood doing the back-and-forth thing between “two homes.” They also both remarried. So in each of those places, I had a male father figure. So I had two half-time dads, a dad and a step-dad.
I was about twelve when I consciously understood that my two half-time dads did not equal one dad. To a casual observer, it might seem as though me being with each of them for half-time would be the same as having one whole dad.
But it was not.
I am not 100 percent sure how I came to this realization, but I do remember thinking it as I stood in the driveway one day. I also remember feeling terrible about the messed-up nature of my family, how alone I was in it, and how it was never going to change.
Perhaps I came to this realization because I was an eye-witness to what an intact family and a full-time dad looked like. My step-dad was a full-time dad to my half-sister. She lived with both her married parents, my mom and my step-dad. I could see quite clearly that what she had and what I had were two very different things.
In each home, I was required to pretend that my other parent (and that parents’ family) did not exist. So while in my mother’s home, I had to pretend that my father and his family did not exist, and while in my father’s home I had to pretend that my mother and her family did not exist.
Family photos of other people’s whole families were on the walls, but not of my whole family. Group family photos were taken and hung on the walls, but I wasn’t in them.
I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “Two Christmases,” or “Two birthdays” in some divorce literature. These are euphemisms. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas Eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. And when I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. Nobody else traveled alone during the holidays to see ex-family members.
Just to show the reality of this, recently my dad’s sister met my step-dad’s brother. Quite innocently, he remarked, “I didn’t know Jim (my dad) had a sister.” Of course. How would he know? My dad had three sisters, but I never talked about them. I think my aunt felt a little slighted, but I had to explain to her that we just never talked about them.
While all of this was going on, I acknowledged everybody’s mother AND father and their whole families.
Missing donor dads and moms
I know there will be some who are tempted to think that my experience is unique to me, but it is not. It is the dynamic of what happens when genetic parents reject each other.
Something similar happens in other non-triad arrangements.
Kids who are conceived from anonymous sperm, or anonymous eggs – as in a single-mom-by-choice household or gay household -- have to pretend that half of who they are does not exist.
If the parents were raised inside the intact triad, then there is an inequality between the parents and the children. There are two different standards being applied. The child must pretend that half of himself does not exist, while the child’s parents don’t have to do the same. The child acknowledges those parents, the grandparents, their aunts and uncles, but one half of that child’s genetic family has been discarded, and is not acknowledged by those same people.
When full family acceptance is a two-way street, that is equality. The parents are treating the kids the same way that the kids treat the parents. Everybody’s full families are acknowledged.
When full family acceptance is a one-way street, that is inequality between the generations. The older generation gets preferential treatment. The younger generation just has to accept whatever acceptance of that other family that the adults “choose” to give, which is zero.
Social bias towards adults’ happiness creates injustice
Not only does the inequality happen on the level of the family, it happens in the wider culture. The child lives under a burden and is not allowed to feel anything negative about the particular family form that was chosen for him. If he feels grief about missing half of himself, it is “disenfranchised grief,” grief that is not acceptable to the wider culture.
Our culture is profoundly concerned about adults and their happiness in their marital, sexual and reproductive choices. But we fail to understand that when we redefine all of those things to expand those choices, the children must live under structural inequalities, double standards and unreciprocated demands.
Adults’ happiness with their family structure choices as adults is more important than their happiness as children regarding those same things.
All of this is going on, even in the face of all the social science data saying that kids fare best with their own married parents.
It is a strange sort of “win-win” for people to be raised with their own married mother and father, then grow up to champion unequal family structures for the next generation, including for their own children.
Our grief about these injustices is not acknowledged, since the injustice itself is not acknowledged. But those of us who experienced it deserve to be healed of our pain, just like everybody else who has pain.
Part of that healing is having the freedom to talk about it without being judged, free to develop language and concepts to understand it better, and free to advocate for policies that will prevent it from happening to others in the future.
That is a kind of equality that we are now denied. While it is true that we can go to therapy for our issues, the entertainment complex, the legal community, and the business community are actually going in the opposite direction. Increasing forms of “family structure diversity,” really means “entrenched disregard for natural marriage and the family founded upon it.”
You can decide who to listen to, but I suggest taking into account those who have actually lived it, as children. Be sure to listen very carefully to what they say.
Posted on: Monday, April 17, 2017
A Child of Divorce Speaks Out on the Importance of a Family
Jennifer Johnson is Director of the Children of Divorce Project at the Ruth Institute. She is an author, whose interests include homeschooling (she homeschooled her three children), children’s rights and family structure issues. She has worked full time with the Ruth Institute since 2010, an organization founded by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse “dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown.”
Johnson’s most recently published work is “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” She recently talked about divorce and its effect on her life.
What is your own personal experience of divorce?
I have a lot of experience with divorce, far too much to ask of any one person in my opinion. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos. By the time I was about 22, I had experienced three divorces: my own parents’ divorce and my dad’s two subsequent divorces. I am divorced as an adult and there is quite a bit of divorce in the rest of my family.
How did it affect you, and how have you been able to recover?
That is a whole story that I tell in my Special Report, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children”. The short version is that I did not have a family; I was the lone member of my family. The family experience that I had was shared by no other person. I include diagrams in the report to show what I mean.
That experience taught me to suppress my true thoughts and feelings about the original divorce and the remarriages. That chaotic situation taught me to ignore my own intuitions, taught me that letting my intuitions bubble to the surface of my mind was dangerous. Had I examined and revealed my intuitions about all that to my parents, it would have jeopardized my already-tenuous relationship with them. Learning to ignore my thoughts, feelings and intuitions about things that bothered me made me extremely vulnerable once I became an adult. I joined a cult at the age of 19, had an arranged marriage there, and participated and endorsed some horrific abuse and exploitation of others so that I could fit in and not be thought of as an outsider. The cult appealed to my deep need for belonging, for being a full-fledged member of a family.
Anthropologists have a concept that applies here. It is called “liminality.” Limin is Latin for the threshold of a doorway. The threshold is not one room or the other. It is the in-between place between two rooms, or between the outside of the house and the inside. Liminality is the condition of being between states or statuses. Sometimes it is referred to as being “betwixt and between.” When somebody is in a liminal state, they are no longer what they were and are not yet what they will be. The old rules no longer apply, and the new rules do not apply yet.
When my parents divorced, I ceased to exist as a full-fledged daughter in my family, because my family ceased to exist. I never again entered a full-fledged status with either of them. Their divorce and subsequent remarriages pushed me into a liminal state from which I have never emerged. Joining the cult was my attempt to exit the liminal state, to become initiated as a full-fledged member of a family, even if it was an abusive family.
There have been many studies about the effects of divorce on children. What are some of the findings?
It’s bad. It is worse than the average person wants to realize. Divorce shortens people’s lives. That alone should get people’s attention. Plus it increases the risk factors for addictions, not finishing high school, getting divorced as an adult and losing contact with grandparents. Children of divorce report feeling a lack of empathy from their churches, and don’t go to church as much as kids from intact families.
“No fault” divorce came to California in 1969, and the rest of the country soon after. How do you think divorce has affected society as a whole?
In order to talk about society, we need to talk about the mechanics behind the changes of “no-fault.” No-fault changed an important legal presumption in marriage. A presumption is a starting-point, a place where we say, “Here is where we begin, and we can make adjustments to individual circumstances from this place, but we need a beginning point so we always begin here.” Prior to no-fault, the legal presumption, the legal beginning point, was that marriage is permanent. It was viewed as a truly life-long commitment and the family courts honored this, at least in principle. Of course, there was divorce and separation prior to no-fault, but the presumption of permanence was honored by the courts. In order to get a divorce, that presumption had to be overcome by demonstrating why the marriage had failed. Such circumstances included adultery, addictions and abandonment.
No-fault changed the legal presumption. Now marriage is no longer legally presumed permanent by the family courts. The courts get involved in the minutia of family life at the behest of one spouse. One spouse has the power to harness the family court to destroy the family, like wielding a sledge hammer, and the family courts must comply. They no longer side with the family, giving preference to its legitimate claim on wholeness. They side with the person who wants to destroy the family. If the other spouse wants to keep the family together, that person has no legal remedy. The divorce will be enforced in all cases if one spouse wants it.
In this respect, no-fault divorce is like abortion. That might sound like a dramatic claim, so let me spell it out.
In both cases, the State sides with one person (the pregnant mother, the petitioner in a no-fault divorce action) to uphold or enforce the action that the person wants (the abortion, the no-fault divorce), while simultaneously providing no legal defense for the other person (the unborn child, the respondent in the divorce action). The individual who wants the action (of the abortion or to be divorced) must be “freed” from every restraint that he does not explicitly want. Even if he chose the restraint at a point in the past, if he changes his mind, then the State’s duty is to free him from it if this is what the individual wants.
In February, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput published a book called, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. He makes this same point when he says: “Without the restrains of some higher moral law, democracy instinctively works against natural marriage, traditional families and any other institution that creates bonds and duties among citizens. It insists on the autonomous individual as its ideal.”
Thus, as a society, we believe that the State’s duty to the individual is to annul or at least modify his familial obligations whenever he chooses in order to free him.
I’ve heard it said divorce may be a necessity when “the 3 A’s” are involved: addiction, abuse and adultery. Do you agree?
This is a complex question since it touches on a variety of issues. We can talk about it from the State’s perspective or the perspective of individual families. Taking the State’s perspective, we might ask: what is the State’s role in divorce? Should the State be involved? If so, at what point? I would say that yes, there is a role for the State, but to restore some semblance of justice in divorce we need to restore the legal presumption of permanence. I do not know how that should be done. Should we go back to some sort of fault-based system that relies on “the 3 A’s”? Should we at least eliminate the unilateral aspect of divorce and require both spouses to consent to it? I would say yes to both of those questions.
We can also consider the perspective of individual families. Perhaps somebody reading this article is experiencing one or more of those things right now. It is difficult to give blanket advice since each case is unique. Even so, I have heard many reports about couples who recovered from adultery. For addiction issues, help can be found through groups such as Al-Anon.
The good thing about the old fault-based system is that somebody was legally culpable. This person was then penalized by the courts. This deterred bad behavior. For example, if the child is not living with that person post-divorce, then this makes sense. Children should not be living with addicts or with abuse, especially when their other parent is not there to serve as a buffer.
What might you say to couples with children considering divorce when less serious issues are involved?
That triad of your family matters a great deal. It matters to your children, to all of the people around you, and to your grandchildren and the rest of your posterity. So try harder to work things out. I know you’re tired and you probably want to go find somebody else. But your kids need you there, at home. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your situation will beat the odds for your kids. Are you willing to implicitly tell them that you don’t want to live with them for half of their remaining childhood? Because that is what you will be communicating to them if you split up. Do you want to throw away their sense of being your full-fledged child?
You will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce, and you will have less say-so in the lives of your children than you do now. Your ex-spouse might bring undesirable people into your children’s lives, and your children will feel pressure to accept and love those people. Some spouses resort to parental alienation tactics, which means that you run the risk of losing all contact with your children for a very long time.
Please do not make the child live in “two homes.” Do not break up their daily life like that. Consider keeping the family home, letting the children live there full time, and getting a small place nearby that you share with your ex-spouse. Each of you takes turns going back and forth between the family home and the other place. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then please reconsider making your kids do the same. Apply the same standard to your children that you want applied to you.
What help/advice would you offer children of divorced parents to help them recover?
I don’t have any magic words here. Healing is an ongoing process. The first steps were the hardest for me:
I recommend my reading my book for more details about all of these concepts, plus many diagrams that make it easy enough for a child to understand.
Posted on: Thursday, March 02, 2017
by Jennifer Johnson
Published on March 2, 2017, at clashdaily.com.
This is an image of the Holy Family that I used to keep in my office.
I would look at this image from time to time and pray to Jesus for wisdom for defending marriage and the family. One day I was looking at this image and saw a triangle between the head of Jesus, His mother Mary, her husband Joseph, then back to Jesus. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s the family structure! It’s a triangle! It is not only a reflection of the Holy Family, it is a reflection of the Trinity!”
This excited me for a couple reasons. For one thing, I’ve discovered that the average person doesn’t understand what “family structure” or “structural issues” mean. Policy wonks, like me, tend to take for granted what we mean when we use phrases like that. To be able to show the family as a triangle means that the average person now has a simple way to understand what those phrases mean.
I was also excited because I wondered how it would apply to my own childhood.
I had not been raised with my own married parents. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos.
So I went home that night and applied the family triangle to my situation.
I carefully drew it all out, using several pieces of paper. It took me several tries to get everybody to fit onto the page in a way that made sense and was proportional.
As I worked on it, I could tell that it was going to be far more complex than I had ever imagined.
This is what I saw:
That’s me, in the bottom center circle.
What do you think? What is your gut response to this?
The first few hours after I finished the drawing were surreal, and I was in a daze.
Seriously, what is this? How was I supposed to navigate this as a child, alone?
In fact, I didn’t navigate it at all. I blocked parts out as time went on, out of necessity. That’s why it was such a shock to see it all there in a two-dimensional way.
One of the first things that stuck out at me was how ugly it is. It looked like a malformed spider’s web.
It was not pretty like the simple triangle I had seen.
I had a flood of emotions come over me, as it brought back memories of people that left my life due to divorce, so I was supposed to have forgotten them when that happened.
My initial excitement had turned to tears of sadness.
And so I cried, a lot at first.
As time went on, I became angry at God for showing this to me. I couldn’t understand why He would make me feel old pain like that. Why bring it all up again? Why have this ugly family structure burned into my mind now? Wasn’t I better off just burying it all in the back of my mind, as if it never happened? The diagram made me feel ashamed. It was always very difficult to have so many different adults and new family members to reckon with constantly, and I didn’t like having them thrust into my face again all at once.
Is it safe for me to say that I just wanted my own family? MY family, MY triad, MY home?
Social conservatives believe in equality for children, because they believe in this for every child:
When every child has this, without the extraneous people as I had, it is a form of equality.
The problem with this argument is that conservatives are not drawn to it. Equality is not a primary ideal in conservatism. But if we stop to think about it, I think it is fair to say that our recent loss over same-sex marriage may have been because our argument did not appeal to people’s sense of fairness. The appeal to equality was an appeal to fairness, after all.
Let’s consider the pro-life movement and see if there is something there that can help us. Crux.com recently published some interesting remarks by Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn and associate professor of history at the University of West Georgia. He makes the argument that the pro-life movement started as a liberal movement based on social justice and human rights. He believes that the movement gains vitality and appeal when its proponents frame the issue using liberal values.
I discovered that we can do the same thing. We can embrace the liberal value of equality. The ancient Christian teachings on sex and marriage means that every child is to be raised with his or her own married mother and father, except for an unavoidable tragedy.
That’s a type of equality that people don’t talk about, but it is real. And there are other equalities that flow out of that one. When the family breaks down or doesn’t form according to the triad, inequalities for children multiply. I think it is exciting to see that this form of equality has been the flip-side of the ancient Christian teaching on marriage and sex all along.
You can learn more about this form of equality, and about the inequalities children face who were not raised with their own married parents. Go to the Ruth Institute website and order my new Special Report, called, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” It includes stories and easy-to-understand diagrams that will help you reopen this discussion with your friends and family members who may believe in same-sex marriage.
By embracing the liberal value of equality we can show people that we hold an ideal that they care about. This may help them listen to what we are saying. After all, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Go here to order this Special Report now:
I don’t want to give away too much, but remember how I said I cried when I drew the diagram of my family structure? If you order the report, you read
the story of how God worked that out for good.