Written by Krsnanandini Devi Dasi & Tariq Saleem Ziyad
Imagine you are walking down a long and winding road and your journey is interrupted by a wise and kind old person. She suggests that you take another path and tells you that if you keep walking down the road you currently are on, you will encounter a huge, smelly pit, poisonous snakes, a band of thieves and rogues and untold other catastrophes. Would you keep walking down that path? Or would you seek another path, one that will take you more safely to your destination?
This is the situation that we find ourselves in today, particularly in the western world. We are spiraling down the path of less and less committed marriage, more and more divorces, increased single parenting, greater incidences of cohabitation, all resulting in weak or no family formation. Wise people, social scientists, are warning that if we keep going this way, we will find ourselves in worse and worse conditions. What sane person will argue that two healthy parents raising a child is not best? While giving kudos to the many valiant single mothers out there, we know that a father’s participation is really not optional for the child’s overall well-being. So why are we not, as a society, fighting the relentless tide of divorcing in America?
As marriage and family educators, we witness firsthand the pain of divorce and of no family formation, finding it especially poignant in children. Recently, we facilitated a family enrichment session with a blended family, including four children, a mother and a stepdad. While it was quite obvious that both parents had a healthy relationship and the children felt loved, when we asked the family to play a game where they find out things they didn’t necessarily know about each other, one child revealed that her greatest sadness and pain was that her parents were divorced.
In another case, a twelve year old told us that he “knew grown-ups were smart but he wished they were smart enough not to hurt their children by breaking up the family”.
A very grown up 46-year-old man recently revealed to his father, a 68-year-old man, that while he admired and appreciated his stepmother, he had always wished that his (divorced) parents would have gotten back together. He told us that their divorce affected him in ways that frightened him. Sadly, this gentleman himself was in the process of divorcing his own wife!
In spite of the varieties of places, cultures, languages, economic statuses and sizes where families exist, in thriving societies, there has always been a fundamental unity in family development and expression. Wisdom dictated that two parents raising a child in the context of community and/or extended family provided the optimal environment for the healthy growth and development of that child.
As a society, we have gone so far down the opposite path that it seems unlikely that we will be able to recover. However, there is hope on the horizon. People are beginning to realize that there is help for troubled, unhappy marriages; that marriage education and enrichment can powerfully change relationships and give people tools to use to communicate better, resolve conflicts in healthy ways and revive the spark in their marriage. Research is showing that premarital education is an awesome preventative resource; that marriage is not obsolete. Rather, it is a very necessary institution that when functioning properly, indicates a healthy and progressive society. We are more and more acknowledging that fathers are integral to the health and well-being of their children and there are things that we can do to reduce divorce.
So we can choose to go down another path but it takes a village to work together to undergo the needed transformation.