When I describe my family or look back on my childhood, I don’t do so with a sense of brokenness, and I wouldn’t typically jump immediately to the word “divorce” to describe us or my experience. BUT, when I actually think about the history and relationships, I’m somewhat shocked by how much divorce is part of the tapestry of who I am! This revelation leads me to wonder if divorce wasn’t so much on my radar because it seemed so commonplace to me, or could it actually be genetic? If not in my blood, was I doomed to divorce simply from the circumstances and examples before me?
To put things in perspective, my family is pretty conservative and subscribes to traditional family values. We were close knit, regularly attended church, and although I don’t ever recall any slamming of divorce or divorced people, I grew up understanding that divorce was not something desirable and should be avoided.
Both sets of my grandparents modeled marital perfection by staying married 40-plus years (until one spouse died), but everything fell apart in the next generation!
My maternal grandparents had three kids (two daughters and a son). My aunt, the eldest, married and divorced twice. My uncle, the youngest, has been divorced once (and has been remarried for over 25 years). My mother, the middle child, married my father in her early twenties, then they divorced when I was one. I saw my father only a handful of times throughout my childhood and was raised by my stepfather from the time I was four. My paternal grandparents had two sons. My uncle has been divorced twice, and my father has been married five (that’s right, five!) times.
Perhaps it’s because these divorces occurred either before I was born or so early in my childhood that they had little impact on my consciousness; but, holy cow! Divorce touched literally every child in my parent’s generation, sometimes multiple times! So, although I have always thought of us as “normal”, this begs the question “what is normal, anyways?”
My parental situation, despite the divorce of my parents, felt stable and still united, perhaps because my step dad was in the picture from a very young age, and he was always there. I didn’t live through visitation going back and forth or ever feel torn between two homes. I lived under the façade that both of my parents were under one roof because my step dad filled that role…I didn’t know until I became an adult that my mom went out of her way to keep me from seeing my father. My childhood felt untouched by divorce because I didn’t recognize what I had as a variation of dysfunction.
When I researched the statistics about divorce, as related to children with divorced parents and their likelihood of divorcing, I was shocked to discover the impact that a broken home has on a child’s future relationships! Apparently, if a child’s parents divorce, he or she is 50% more likely to marry another child of divorce. Compounding this fact, if one marries a spouse with divorced parents, their risk of divorce is already 50% higher, but if both spouses come from broken homes, the risk skyrockets to 200%! If a child’s parent remarries, his or her own divorce rate increases by 91%! Daughters of divorced parents are reported to be 60% more at risk of divorce, while sons are 35% elevated.
Based on statistics alone, I was doomed to never have a successful marriage! It didn’t matter that I have no recollection of my parents fighting or recall witnessing what registered to me as inadequate relationship skills; yet, the numbers are hard to shrug off! My parents and their siblings don’t have statistics to explain their marriage failures; but, perhaps the greater acceptance of divorce that their generation experienced led to them (all) deciding to end first marriages when the going got tough.
I now have some serious cause for reflection about what role my family’s divorces have on my own record. Did the fact that they all divorced make me feel more inclined to divorce if my marriage became too challenging? Did I fear acceptance for decisions to divorce less than others might because my elders had all done it? Did I absorb faulty interpersonal skills as a child that would come back to haunt me as an adult?
These facts about divorce also force me to contemplate the fate of my children and step children and their future relationships. If the numbers predict their destiny, my daughter and step daughter already have 60% odds working against them, added onto a 91% hit in the favor of divorce because they have parents who remarried. Then, they face 50% odds of marrying a man with divorced parents, meaning they can tack on another 200% punch in the face for that same fact!
As it is, I don’t place all the blame on numbers, and I don’t want my kids to blindly accept those digits as a foregone conclusion, either. The statistics are shocking, the precedence of dysfunction horrifying; but, we all (from my parents, aunt, uncles, me, and my children) have personal responsibility in our choices and decisions. Other statistics clearly show the importance of avoiding early sexual activity and marrying too young to avoid divorce, and even point to smoking, economics, level of education, and preparation for marriage as contributing factors to divorce.
I am aware that a third marriage with step children involved puts my current marriage at a 70% plus risk of divorce; however, I know that I am wiser, more mature, and more experienced than the teenage me who foolishly married for the first time at 18.
My eyes are wide open to the challenge before me, to the work it requires to maintain a successful marriage, and the devastation caused by divorce (especially with children involved)! I don’t want to repeat any of the mistakes that led to my past marriage foibles, and I am willing to use what I now know to avoid another disaster. Similarly, I have a duty to the kids in my charge to model healthy relationship skills, help them develop life habits that won’t increase their chances of divorce, and educate them about the risks before them and why they exist.
I suspect that I entered into my own failed marriages thinking I was better or could do better in that department than the generation before me. My intentions to have a long and successful marriage and to make smarter choices came from the right place, but they weren’t enough. Now it is up to me to learn from all of our mistakes to protect myself and the next generation from the same missteps. I am hopeful that more recent reports that the divorce rate is decreasing will have a positive effect on my children in the form of more resources to prepare individuals for marriage and help them sustain it. Beyond that, time will tell if they will close the book on a dark family trend or continue the pattern.
Does divorce run in your family?