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Trickle Down Divorce
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Grandma reading to Anika #1photo © 2007 Ratha Grimes | more info (via: Wylio)
For most families, last weekend was a rush of chocolate, church, and Grandma’s cooking. For many of us, though, holidays are made more difficult by extended family, and I’m not talking about those of us who have to sit through Uncle Joe’s flatulence at the table. No, I mean the difficulty in choosing whose table to sit at in the first place.

I come from a generation affected by divorce, but it is not necessarily our own divorces that predominate. It is more likely the divorces of our parents. Marriages that occur today are actually less likely to fall apart than marriages from a few decades ago, because our divorce rate is going down (though our marriage rate is similarly falling). But the ramifications of those Baby Boomer divorces are now trickling down to the generations that have followed.

When you feel alone, angry, and bitter in your marriage it is easy to think that dissolving that marriage will end those feelings (though research doesn’t show that divorce brings increased happiness). That marriage relationship, though, is not the only relationship at stake. There’s also the parent relationship. And the grandparent relationship.

By divorcing, you virtually guarantee that you will see your children less than you do now. We usually come to terms with that before we decide to split. What we sometimes forget, though, is that those children eventually grow up and have families of their own. And divorced people will see less of their grandchildren than grandparents who stay together.

It’s not hard to see why. Take a commenter on my blog who was describing her Easter trials. She and her husband both have divorced parents. Her parents don’t speak to one another. All four sets of parents demand equal time. How do you then negotiate the holidays? In this family’s case, you simply cocoon at home and stop seeing everyone. And now she mourns that her kids don’t really have grandparents they can look up to.

If you’re divorced and you maintain a great relationship with your ex, you can avoid many of these problems simply by not being petty. But here’s the kicker: even if you have an ideal relationship with your ex, you still will see your grandchildren less, because your children do not have unlimited time. They only have so many holidays in the year, and it’s hard to split those up between so many different households.

My own children have one set of divorced grandparents (my own parents) and one set of married grandparents. They have an amazing relationship with my mother and my in-laws, but they have virtually no relationship with my father, because I don’t see him very much. I haven’t lived with him since I was two. I sometimes wonder if he realized, when he left all those years ago, that he was saying good-bye not just to his wife but also to his daughter and any future grandchildren. I wonder if that thought would have made him reconsider.

So many of my generation are just sick of it: sick of their parents’ fighting over who sits where at the wedding; sick of their parents’ complaining about each other; sick of the constant pull to visit too many houses. And so they give up, create their own lives for themselves, and leave their parents behind.

Keep that as a cautionary tale. When we are in the midst of a difficult marriage, getting out can seem like the best route to happiness. But it also puts your life on a very different trajectory. You will never have the same relationship with your children you would have had otherwise. And inevitably, even in a good divorce, you will see your grandchildren far less. So be prepared before you untie that knot.

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At 10:44 AM , Blogger Kate said…

Thanks for writing this Sheila. I hope that people who are considering/ justifying their own divorce will read it and believe it. As for "amicable" divorces... well. People seem to think that they will be mature and civilized enough to do it and it just does not happen that way a lot of the time. A lot of people just openly hate eachother's guts like my my parents.

We all know that sometimes an unavoidable divorce happens in very tough situations, but I would say that *most* people who get divorced do it hastily and for terrible reasons such as not "feeling happy" or whatever. But even those of us who hate and have been scarred by divorce still have it embedded in us that it's a "way out" when things get rough, and they always do when you have 2 sinners married to eachother : ) So thanks for the reminders that divorce is an ugly domino effect throughout our and others lives we care about.


At 10:51 AM , Blogger Momofkings said…

Amen sister! We two have both parents divorced and we dread Christmas every year because every year someone is mad at us about not seeing them enough/the way they want/the other parent gets more time, etc. It is very frustrating and often overshadows the holiday.

This is definitely a big issue!


At 11:05 AM , Blogger va_grown said…

It does make it extremely awkward to maintain close relationships with everyone. My husbands parents are divorced and both are remarried now. We are under constant pressure to visit more with no consideration for the fact that the other side is pressuring us to visit more too and they all live several hours away in different directions from us.

Plus, it's always awkward for the kids events and programs (although we're all learning to adjust). How do we invite all the grandparents to the Christmas program and dinner afterward when they don't want to spend any time together? Honestly, I've taken to ignoring their personal issues and just inviting everyone to one place and letting the chips fall where they will. Someone always misses out.


At 12:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

There doesn't even have to be a in-laws are "separated" (and have been for more than 5 years). And one of my husband's sisters refuses to be at any event that their father will be at. The result is that we really don't spend much time with the in-laws.

Nurse Bee


At 1:46 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

My kids are 11 and 5 so not at the grandkid stage yet. But yes, very much missing out on their Dad as he doesn't bother to spend any quality time with them -- whether it is a holiday or otherwise. So sad as he is definitely cutting all ties to the future. When my 5 yr old says "Is Daddy really going to (fill in the blank) or is he just saying he is going to do it?" There is something seriously wrong... My parents will have been married 50 yrs in October (God Willing) and that was the example I hoped to follow. However, it was not to be... definitely divorce is not the easy way out and it affects more than the immediate nuclear family involved.

I think we should all pray for William and Kate and their new marriage as it will be under tremendous pressure to succeed....

Denise in Saskatchewan


At 6:58 PM , Anonymous Kristin said…

Thank you so much for this post Sheila. I am in a marriage where I am more than justified, biblically and otherwise, in seeking a divorce. Yet as I navigate the ongoing fallout of my in-laws 30 year old divorce, as their hurts and bitterness spill all over my husband, myself, and my girls, I just can't do it. I want to, and my life would be easier financially, emotionally, even my health would benefit from divorce. But my kids would be destroyed. Our family would be ripped apart forever. It is a decision that includes so many more people than just me. People we have never even met, who may not even be born yet. Instead I pray for strength, for willingness to continue to forgive, and for joy in everything else God has blessed me with, including the hope I have in Him that He could bring my husband to a place of repentance.


At 2:45 PM , Blogger Strong Man said…

Good reminder. Yet--we don't want to have marriages that are just barely hanging together for the sake of the kids.

Let's consider ways of promoting happy marriages, of encouraging couples to strengthen their relationship.

I'm starting a series of tips for married men that I hope will help.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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