There is no easy way to start into this. It’s ugly, as matters of divorce always are, especially concerning kids. But it sometimes is the only way, despite ones misgivings and concerns about how it may be received. Divorce is ugly and let no judge, lawyer, petitioner or BFF tell you otherwise. Any perceived “good” that has as its primary conclusion the harming of the innocent, is no “good”. It is simply an evil. Such is abortion and such is divorce.
I have previously described divorce as the live abortion of the nuclear family and that is exactly what it is. It sucks out the life of the innocent from the family womb, no less so than does the abortionist’s vacuum tube in sucking out the life of a pre-born child. Abortion and divorce are eerily similar: a parent (or parents) seeks to abort their own child (or children).
It really doesn’t matter whether the abortion is within the womb or without; it only matters that in both cases, it is the parent (or parents) that willingly agree to harm the innocent! So to salve wounded pride, to sooth passions and to solve personal and marital woes, the family is cleaved to wipe clean the slate for a fresh start! Isn’t the love of a family wonderful! It really, really takes a loving family to make my personal needs and desires more easily corrected by their complete understanding of my need to cleave it in two! Gosh, I’ve been blessed, haven’t I?? Have you been blessed? Not really. You’re just one of those who found a used copy of The Courage to Divorce for $.03 and took to heart the one positive review. Have I read the book? No. And anyone who has read my blog knows what I think of the divorce=courage meme.
Obviously, numerous mistakes were made by both parents within our particular marriage, which is evident simply because I am writing this commentary. It is equally obvious that both parents made mistakes in parent-child relationships as evidenced by the continued estrangement – after 4-1/2 years – of some of my children. Regardless, I have refused very little to them when asked (including an always open door to all), as long as it does not conflict with my temporal or moral duties as a Parent. Some things have, mind, but you must move forward regardless, as any parent – especially a Catholic one – cannot abjure their moral duty as it concerns their children, even if they (or the other parent) complain. Children only know they want to be left alone, left to “get outta here”, left to “move on”, and left to flee the pain and sorrow that was unjustly and selfishly thrust upon their shoulders. Can parents blame them? No. Can parents help them? Yes, by simply remaining a Parent and doing what a Parent has to do. Even non-custodial parents cannot leave behind their moral duty, even if they were to somehow convince themselves to leave behind their temporal one. It is a rocky and inglorious road to be sure, but it cannot be turned aside from, if one truly loves their children. And therein lies the main hurdle – the non-reciprocal love of children - and one that remains a constant reminder of how fragile parent-child relationships can be within the divorce cocoon.
Decades of research is available on how to handle divorces when children are involved, and of the result when those rules are not followed. When one parent breaks spousal confidence to their children; when one parent is continually transparent to the children about the faults of the other parent; when one parent divulges divorce-related matters to the children; when one parent unjustly excludes the other when telling the children of divorce…all of these are direct violations of what most professionals recommend.
Simply Google “children and divorce” and read for yourself. And if you can stomach further reading of divorce’s harmful effect on children, Austin Ruse wrote an eye-opening article for Crisis Magazine – "The True Face of “Happy Divorce” is Quite Ugly" – that cites a 2005 study by Elizabeth Marquardt that, of the one in two marriages that end in divorce, most were of the “low conflict” variety (which I assume means non-abusive). If such is the case, why the radical abortion of the marriage to cure seemingly “low conflict” differences that should be able to be resolved with outside professional assistance? Seems a bit “radical”, does it not? Marquardt, herself a child of divorce, is quoted as saying that young adults from 30 – 40 years ago are still dealing with wounds that could never be talked about with their parents.
So why is divorce portrayed as a “good” then? Why is divorce portrayed as helping everyone to heal and to “move on” to their “happy place”? Sadly, it is not the children who are the beneficiaries of “moving on”, nor of finding a “happy place”. Quite the contrary, as the “moving on” to a “happier place” benefits only the spouse-petitioner, whether it be wife or husband. This very point was made by W. Bradford Wilcox in The Evolution of Divorce, quoting a 1979 work by a prominent scholar who wrote “…that divorce even held “growth potential” for mothers, as they could enjoy “increased personal autonomy, a new sense of competence and control, [and the] development of better relationships with [their] children.” I wonder now, almost 36 years later, if the writer would think the same.
For Catholic Parents – those who are petitioners and respondents in divorces – the harm done to children takes on a more grave appearance. It is a Truth of divorces that Charity - the Greatest of the three Theological Virtues – is the first of the three to be thrown under the bus, just as children are divorce’s first casualties (aside from the marriage itself.) Sadly, it is the children – and here I speak of older children, teen and above – who also are forced into violating this same virtue almost from the outset. Why? Because divorce forces children to answer a question none should ever be asked: Which Parent do you choose? And furthermore, if one parent’s faults within the marriage are – explicitly or not – used in coercing the right answer to Petitioner Mom or Petitioner Dad, the children’s eventual and long-lasting estrangement from the one parent has been ensured, not to mention the beginning of their continual conflict with the Fourth Commandment of God: “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.”
So, not only does divorce (1) require that at least one Catholic parent violate the greatest of the three Theological virtues, (2) cause older children to unwittingly do the same, but it also (3) puts those same children at odds with God Himself! How, one may ask, is this good Catholic parenting? Furthermore, how is this representative of Christ’s Love within the family? It’s not, of course, in either case. But don’t just take my word, listen to what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say on the matter.
The Aquinas Catechism is collection of his sermons during Lent of the year before his death that was first compiled by his companion and fellow Dominican, Reginald of Piperno. St. Thomas’s sermon on the Fourth Commandment alone should be framed and hung on every Bishop’s and Chancery Office wall, in every Tribunal courtroom – and in every Catholic living room. They are sobering words indeed and worthy of note, if only for the reminder of the suffix that is most often left off the direct quote from Our Creator: “…that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee.”
This doesn’t mean that every child who honors their parents will be granted a long and prosperous earthly life. What it does mean, according to St. Thomas, is “…a long life which is a full life; and it is not observed in time but in activity.” In other words, a life full of virtue. A life lived according to the Book of Wisdom: “Being perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time, for his Soul pleased God”.
However, it’s hard for children to live such a life while enmeshed in the evils of divorce, forcefully separated from their nuclear family and filled with self-sustaining hurt and anger towards one parent (or even both.) Consider what more St. Thomas writes of children who honor their parents (but consider more these that divorce may have stolen from them):
• Grace and Glory: Grace, for the present life; glory, in the life to come.
• Grateful and pleasing children: “He that honoureth his father shall have joy in his own children” (Ecclesiastes 3:6)
• A praiseworthy reputation: “For the glory of a man is from the honor of his father…” (Ecclesiastes 3:13)
• Riches: “The father's blessing establisheth the houses of the children: but the mother' s curse rooteth up the foundation” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
What greater violation of Charity can Catholic parents bestow than forcing upon their own children the requirement to disobey the 4th Commandment? What greater violation of their vocation than that of willfully causing Spiritual harm to their own children? What valid, prudent and reasonable argument can Catholic parents put forth that justifies their only solution to marital difficulties lie with a “you-know-in-advance-this-will-harm-your-children” divorce?
Admittedly, all the above was not at the forefront of my mind when this travesty started, nor was it likely with my spouse either. If it had been, you would not be reading this and I would not be living alone. Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but Objective Truth is priceless, especially when it opens a parents scale-covered eyes to their own frailties and to the stark and painful realities of children and divorce. How can any Catholic Parent seek to find their own “happy place”, knowing of the pain and sorrow of their children? How could I, as a Catholic Parent, ask my children to divide their love for a fourth time to envelop a new Step-Mother? Would they even, considering the present estrangement? Not likely…
Ronald Regan made what he later admitted was one of the biggest mistakes of his political life: the signing of California’s No Fault Divorce law. I likewise admit that one of my biggest mistakes in marriage was not addressing spousal difficulties in a timely manner, no matter how lopsided or contentious the conversation may have become. But an even bigger one was the ease and freedom with which I allowed a disaffected spouse to pursue her passions, all in the name of “luv” - the “luv” from the 60’s, the “me” generation “luv”, the ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ “luv”, the singular and self-fulfilling “luv” that now seemingly permeates the Catholic Church. The “luv” upon which all divorce is rooted and which attempts to find the lasting beauty that will forever escape its grasp.
The true definition of love lies not within divorce, within the breaking of the marital vows or even within the adulterous couple that have “positive aspects”, as the 2014 Family Synod hoped. The truest form of love is, obviously, Christ Himself: He is Truth and Love. The truest form of earthly love lies with our gift of self, unreserved and unbounded, to the ones we cherish. It is the gift of non-reciprocal love; the gift of loving the unlovable; the gift of sanctifying your spouse through patient acceptance of their faults. It especially lies with loving your children, knowing it may not be you that walks an estranged daughter down the aisle at her wedding or accepting that your love may forever be used as a means to their end. Non-reciprocal love is what we parents are supposed to have, but when it comes time to put it to the test, we many times fail. Our fault lies in not learning from our failure – or learning too late to make a difference.
I miss my children, dearly. I may never again have the privilege of seeing some of them, unless attitudes and hearts change. That I am still here, still loving, still praying and still single (the import of which the children will only come to realize later) makes evident that their reason (if there had ever been a truly valid one, which there wasn’t) for this estrangement has long since been disproved. They will eventually come to realize this, if only through their own life’s experiences. It just saddens me that I may not be able to help them on this journey, if only to silently stand beside them and give them a firm, but loving, Father’s hug.
Spero columnist David Heath is a freelance writer and blogger.