A recent story in the Wall Street Post analyzes divorce for Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). This is the generation that grew up with divorce–they were raised when divorce rates were sky rocketing (I am a Gen Xer, but my parents did not divorce). I found the piece interesting because the author’s point of view was shock and surprise about divorce for this group. She grew up in a divorced home and knew how hard it was and so never wanted that for her own children. While I understand her feelings, I think she fails to consider what studies show us about children of divorce. Children from divorced parents tend to have double the rate of divorce as other children. Divorce begets divorce. Unfortunately it seems that if you do not have the model of a healthy marriage when you are a child, it makes it much harder for you to have a healthy marriage yourself.
That being said, I do not agree with parents who stay together just for the children. Yes, it works in some instances, but if you have a volatile marriage that is filled with anger, violence, emotional abuse, and other behavior that children observe, living in such a home is also damaging. Having represented children of divorce as a Law Guardian, I firmly believe it is better for a child to have two safe, secure, emotionally healthy homes than one severely dysfuctional and emotionally dangerous one.
To get back to the question at hand then, how do we help children of divorce learn what a healthy marriage is? If they can’t learn in their own homes, how do we teach them? I think it’s essential for children of divorce to get some therapy to help them deal with the home situation. If children can eventually come to terms with their home situation, they may not seek to have those needs filled elsewhere, which can lead to unhealthy relationships. I also think it is imperative for parents to talk about what a healthy relationship is like (assuming they can!). Expose your kids to people in long-term marriages and ask them to talk to your kids about how to make it work. Pre-marital counseling is very useful for couples who have divorced parents, but often unhealthy patterns have developed by the time you get to counseling.
Divorce need not be inevitable for kids of divorced parents and Gen X needs to think about how they can keep divorce from spreading to the next generation.