People Who Divorce in Glass Houses...
With the holidays behind us, the first Monday in January begins another season (one I’ve previously written about here)-- the biggest time of year for divorce filings. In 2018, Merriam-Webster chose "justice,” one of the most looked up words, as it's word of the year. This year's group of divorcees, like those before them, probably won’t find justice in the courthouse. Certainly, their children won't!
Which brings to mind a phrase I’d like to see disappear from our vernacular this year. I saw it used again recently when HGTV star Nicole Curtis shared in People Magazine how devastated she was to have her three-year-old son picked up by his father on Thanksgiving Day. When stating her case for kids to spend holidays with both parents together, Ms. Curtis, who also has another child from a previous marriage, opined that the parent with the holiday, whether they want to or not, should always invite the other parent to their home, providing it was safe to do so. “Buck Up – it’s not about you,” she said.
But there is inherent danger in telling others to "buck up" or "man up" or otherwise shame someone into doing what you think is the right thing. The advice might sound good on the surface but not be practical or best or even possible. For instance, a holiday family get-together is not always in one particular person’s home and not just about one person. In-laws and extended family members each have their own unique circumstances. There may also be other divorces in the mix as well as the new partners of others. Divorce has woven so many entanglements into the fabric of our society. What if Ms. Curtis goes on to have a third child with yet another father? This is the never-ending conundrum brought on by the nightmare of divorce in our culture.
In putting forth a simplistic fix to the pain she and others experience during the holidays, Ms. Curtis has played into the fantasy of divorce as a nice neat little package with a bow on top, when in fact divorce is fueled by powerful emotions which more often than not complicate everyone's lives. Her solution is about as realistic as expecting intact families to resemble Ozzie and Harriet during the holiday season. Telling anyone to buck up lacks the same compassion Ms. Curtis claims she's due.
I’m not saying I think it's a bad idea for kids whose parents are not married to spend holidays with both their parents. In fact, I think all kids whose parents are not married or otherwise living together should grow up in one home. Let parents rotate in and out of that home as well as spend family time there together, instead of shuffling kids around. This scenario, known as “bird-nesting,” is not popular, however, because at its core it inconveniences parents rather than kids.
Experts agree that what’s best for a child is to grow up with both parents under one roof in a happy and healthy marriage or committed relationship. And if we truly put kids first, we’d all champion an environment that supports fixing broken marriages and relationships rather than simply discarding them and settling for all-together flawed custody arrangements. We’d care more about Nicole Curtis’ heartache at not spending Thanksgiving and so many other ordinary but just as important days with her son, too. That’s not the way of our society though. Last month, a Heineken beer advertisement reminded us when they ran their “Tradition doesn’t always have to be traditional”commercial featuring mom’s boyfriend and dad’s new family all gathered together for Christmas. No, we generally want the short-term happiness right in front of our nose rather than working hard to repair relationships and secure what is truly best for present and future generations.
Consider this. In “How Good For Children Is The Good Divorce: surprising findings on educational attainment and marital success” University of Texas Professor Norval Glenn surmises that a "‘good divorce" may be more harmful to children in their future relationships than a "bad one". Simply put, the better our divorces, the more desensitized future generations become to divorce. A couple's threshold for working through problems becomes less and they become more prone to split. Divorce becomes a legacy. Indeed, children of divorce are already more predisposed to divorce when they marry.
I have enormous empathy for the pain Nicole Curtis endured on Thanksgiving Day. The continued fallout from my parent’s, my sister’s, and my divorces were at the root of the pain I experienced in the last few months when I spent the holidays alone, missing every family member I’ve ever had. Indeed, the only thing worse for me than the days leading up to Christmas were the days after when I was constantly asked if I had a nice Christmas and felt obliged to give the socially appropriate "yes" when in reality it was horrible.
My situation, like so many others, is heartbreaking and so I understand the frustration which leads people to offer up simple solutions to complex problems, however, it’s never productive, and actually it’s quite hurtful, to tell me or anyone else struggling with the hardship of a family break-up to simply “buck up.” Better to try and understand the difficulties others face and try to walk a day in their shoes. Better still to fix our broken divorce system and encourage couples to work to reunite.