Written by Beverly Willett
I got an e-mail the other day about upcoming summer concerts. Crosby Stills & Nash is coming to town in August. Last year marked the 40th anniversary of their hit single — “Teach Your Children.” It was also the 40th anniversary of the inception of our country’s no-fault divorce experiment. Since then, the lives of approximately one million children a year have been turned upside down because of their parents’ divorces: 40 years, 40 million kids. This is one anniversary not worthy of a celebration.
According to one of the nation’s leading pollsters, education remains high on the list of voters’ concerns. Large numbers of parents believe they’re not getting a good return on their investment. The return on their divorce investment is even more abysmal. The serious negative impact of divorce on children is well-known. Here’s a look at the lessons some parents electing an unnecessary divorce are teaching their children.
1. Parents come first. It’s not supposed to work that way but, with on-demand divorce, the lessons we’d normally teach our children get switched. Parents get to place their wants and needs first. Children’s “best interests” get taken into account only when it’s time for the court to determine custody along with dividing up the rest of the chattel. Children don’t get a vote either.
2. When the going gets tough – go AWOL. It’s hard to see how the message to jump ship will provide children with the tools needed to overcome obstacles, problem solve, communicate, manage their anger or muster their courage. Character-building is usually acquired one way — when we learn how to bale. That’s not what divorce teaches.
3. Pinky swears are worthless. Even the youngest school-age kid knows what a pinky swear means. It’s been a long time since my daughters were little, but I still remember how we’d seal important promises with a pinky swear. We made our solemn pledges, hooked our pinkies and committed to keeping our word. Divorce, however, teaches children that the most important pinky swears of all is meaningless. A promise that can be broken by crossing your fingers behind your back.
4. You’re the center of the universe. Of course we don’t say that to our children and, hopefully, don’t believe it either. But that’s still the message our example sets when, in the absence of cause, we opt for divorce and revolve the universe around ourselves. Unfortunately, this may teach kids they should behave likewise. After all, children of divorce do have higher divorce rates than their peers from intact families. Not an appetizing recipe for future generations.
5. Lying is good and gets you what you want. Right or wrong? True or false? Haven’t we taught our kids it often doesn’t matter? Before our laws began belittling marriage, you had to have a good reason to leave. (And, yes, there were difficulties with domestic violence. And the Coalition for Divorce Reform is committed to maintaining protection for victims, and has drafted its model legislation accordingly.) In some states, you could also have the court snip the knot provided both spouses agreed and waited awhile. But too many adults were impatient and wanted to get around the law. In some cases neither had done anything “legally” wrong, but still wanted out. In other situations, judges pressured parties to admit fault in order to speed the case along. Indeed, the first time I appeared in divorce court the judge peered down at me with a scowl on her face and indicated she thought my wanting to save my marriage was merely an excuse for being stubborn.
And so, many parents simply lied under court pressure or cooked up their own deals (divorcing parents all of a sudden communicating). Mom or dad took the “blame” under oath, while lawyers and judges winked and let them get away with it.
Then an outcry erupted. Lawmakers and lawyers said something had to be done to end the system of “institutionalized perjury” that made moms and dads testify falsely. (And forced attorneys and judges to go along.) So divorce laws were changed, thereby allowing parents to tell the truth.
6. Patience doesn’t pay. Along with cause, most states also dropped their waiting periods. “I got my divorce in six weeks,” someone told me the other day. “Be patient,” we tell our kids – do as I say, not as I do.
7. It’s important to share. One of the most basic lessons parents teach children is to share. Each year millions of children get to put that lesson into practice sharing time between mom and dad. Splitting their time (and hearts) on Christmas day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Halloween, Passover, birthdays, etc. Dividing weeks and weekends, summers, vacations and other school breaks. Because parents, too, must learn to share their children.
Long before Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) wrote their famous hit words, Albert Einstein penned his: “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.” Ask any child expert. Even in the best of circumstances, we all as parents fail at times. Unnecessary divorce compounds the problem many times over.
In some cases, the road has been paved with good intentions. However, while we might not have known exactly where the road would lead in 1970, now we undoubtedly do. Now the time is right for doing all we can to save our marriages and, in turn, improve the lives of our children.