Ruth Speaks Out

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.

This is what I wanted to say to a fellow child of divorce

Posted on Friday, October 23, 2015

by Jennifer Johnson

I just came across this article, written by a young adult whose parents divorced when she was 16. Her name is Talia Kollek. She is defending divorce and advocating for more divorces. I wanted to post this as a comment under her article, but for some reason I didn't have the heart. So instead I'll post it here, in an expanded form, because I think it makes an important point about the hall of mirrors that children of divorce may live in.


I am a child of divorce myself, and appreciate what you are trying to do. You want people to be happy and I get that. But there are a few things here that are either factually incorrect, or they seem to be incorrect assumptions you are making. For example:
  • Divorce is contagious. Your neighbor's divorce, and your parent's divorce, does impact you.
  • The divorce rate is going down.
  • Bringing up abusive situations is really a straw man. I don't know of any marriage or divorce policy organization that advocates for people to remain in abusive relationships. In your case, you don't mention that one of your parents was abusive. And it doesn't sound like they were.
  • No fault divorce means unilateral divorce. The government takes sides with the spouse who wants the marriage the least. Every single day innocent people lose their children, their homes and their savings and yet have not been convicted of any wrongdoing.
  • Divorce harms children for the rest of their lives. It is not a benign or neutral event, nor is it a one-time painful shock that recedes a couple years after the divorce. For example, compared to their peers raised by their married biological parents, children of divorce don't graduate from high school or college at the same rates, they have higher mortality rates, they are more likely to engage in early sexual activity, more likely to suffer from drug or alcohol abuse... the list goes on.
  • The social science is clear that family disintegration due to the death of one spouse is far easier for children to endure than when it is due to divorce.
So why the advocacy for something that is demonstrably harmful to not only children but innocent spouses? I think, oftentimes, children of divorce live in a hall of mirrors, unknowingly created by their parents and society. We are expected to accept divorce--indeed, we are forced to accept it if we want to remain in a good relationship with our parents. I think too that we realize that there is no hope for our family to be reunited, so we may feel like there is no use speaking out. We lost something very dear to us and we have every right to know why it happened and for our parents to tell us why it happened. But how many of us know why or agree with the reason? If we don't know or don't agree, then our love for our parents gets turned against us--we must endorse their sexual/marital/reproductive choices or else face disapproval or rejection.

Because we must endorse our parents sexual/marital/reproductive choices, we may end up advocating for more of the same, even though the social science is very clear about its harms. That is why I say it is like living in a hall of mirrors. We may end up looking at a reflection of reality, which is of course backwards from reality itself. It is very difficult to advocate for a family structure that makes demands on people, when authoritative people in our lives have rejected those demands. What might they think we are saying about them if we advocate for a family structure they rejected? Not only can this kind of advocacy be hard for the child of divorce, but I imagine that there are other situations where it is difficult as well. For example, such advocacy might be hard for those whose intact families would not exist except that somebody else's intact family was first destroyed by divorce. 

How do I know if this applies to you? In any particular case, such as yours, I don't know. But I do wonder if there is a broadly applicable dynamic at work. That's why I needed to say this. I am trying to understand why those who were subject to demonstrably harmful family structures later advocate for those very same structures.

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