Why Divorce Devastates Children
I begged her not to marry him. Our family members pleaded—all to no avail. She would have none of it. She claimed we were being negative, blind to all of his wonderful attributes. Only recently, after eight years of a tense and tumultuous marriage, after giving birth to three beautiful girls now ages 7, 6, and 5, and after he reconnected with his junior high flame on Facebook and filed for divorce, does she now see what we all saw back then.
This week, a dear friend who lives across the country contacted me to tell me that her husband left her in February without any explanation. She's reeling. They'd been married 20-plus years, and she didn't see it coming. No one did. To top it off, in the next week or so, her two daughters will graduate, one from high school and the other from college. These young women are now forced to negotiate important milestones in the midst of the dissolution of their Christian family.
Strangely, these sad stories came while I was reading The Children Of Divorce: The Loss of Family As the Loss of Being (Baker Academic), by Andrew Root, professor of youth ministry at Luther Seminary.
Root's book is meant not to chastise or heap guilt on parents who have divorced, but rather to help the Christian community understand the ramifications of divorce from a child's perspective. The child need not be under the age of 18 either; Root's thesis is that no matter the age, divorce, even "the good divorce," has profoundly negative effects on a child's ontology, or sense of being. Root writes that "even in instances when divorce was a great gift to one or both parents, it was a silent nightmare to a child. What I am asserting is that divorce … leaves major marks on children, marks that reach all the way to the core of their being."
Throughout the book, Root, himself a child of divorce, carefully and successfully supports his thesis. By weaving together arguments from Scripture, history, philosophy, psychology, theology, as well as his own experience and that of other children of divorce, he makes it crystal clear that divorce imperils a child's very being. However, he is careful to say that this doesn't necessarily apply to those fleeing a marriage due to abuse.
As I read the book, I thought of the classic film Back to the Future. In a series of twists and turns, Marty McFly finds he has interfered with his mother and father's first meeting and therefore marriage. Throughout the movie, as the likelihood of his parent's marriage grows dim, so does his and his siblings' existence. In one scene, Marty and Doc Brown examine a photo of Marty's family only to discover that Marty's brother is vanishing. Doc exclaims, "Just as I thought. This proves my theory. Look at your brother." Marty replies with, "His head's gone. It's like it's been erased." Then comes the memorable line from Doc: "Erased from existence."
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