How About We Abstain From Divorce-Shaming Our Fellow Mothers

divorce-shamingDivorce is common these days to those of us who are still getting married. Marriage may be the latest way to tip off others about your financial status, but the commitment –whether religiously sanctioned or not — doesn’t always endure, unfortunately. Some may regret marrying too young or, to the outside, may appear to call it quits much too early. But to those who are putting themselves and their families back together again following those notorious irreconcilable differences, let us not wag a finger in divorce shame.

I echo Rebecca Eckler‘s sentiments in that I wish married people would speak up more about the tribulations and hard work of a marital commitment rather than just boasting the good. It is of course true that we all live in frantically commercialized times in which the most you often hear about any marriage is the wedding:  the color of the napkin rings or how much the price of the bride’s dress rather than the maintenance and effort of such a union. I suppose seeing triple zeros in a headline is infinitely more alluring to eyeballs than “Our secret is marital counseling!’ or “We actually just don’t have sex anymore!” It’s too bad too because for every couple that chooses to keep mum about their relationship upkeep, those of us who perhaps may be looking ahead to marriage or some sort of long-term partnership are truly missing out on gold. And for those of us who do want to walk down the aisle and remain with our partners forever, we’re clearly at a loss for contemporary models.

But while divorce and marriage aren’t milestones to be entered into lightly, the trend of shaming those who do find themselves with a marriage behind them doesn’t help much anyone — nor the status of marriage. Divorce may be commonplace and that stigma may have worn with your grandmother’s era, but the assumption that these are somehow “failed” individuals who didn’t work hard enough in their “failed” unions slights those who perhaps did. Divorce-shaming also convinces those of both sexes to remain in unhealthy, considerably toxic partnerships, sometimes to the detriment of their children.

Some women may love their children more than they love their husbands, but the role of parents is to first and foremost cultivate a healthy and stable home for their kids. And it should be recognized that for some women and men who found their kids to be languishing in a truly abysmal home life, divorcing their spouse was keeping with those essential parental responsilibities. Some parents save their kids from further anguish and pain by reading the writing on the wall and not subjecting their little ones to chance. For some parents the divorce isn’t for them at all — it’s for their kids.

For parents who remain in horrendous marriages, I often wonder what values that imparts onto their children. I’m not talking about love spats or routine quarrels or even occasional fighting. I’m talking calamitous, truly annihilative relationships in which there are only bad days, worse days, and the floor you cannot fall below. What are children supposed to glean from these households in which they watch either of their parents wither for years in desperation? Never take initiative? Settle for whatever misguided decision you once made? Never consider yourself worthy enough for more?  Such tag lines run great PR for marriage at a time in which we sorely need positive examples and enthusiasm, while also disadvantaging kids.

One of our readers named Tina recently commented with an anecdote regarding her personal experience that I found particularly poignant on the subject:

I also find all the people commenting about their happy marriages and “giving up easily” a bit offensive. Good marriages don’t end in divorce. I was married for almost ten years. I put up with things I never should have and I’m not a better person for it. I would have been a better person to walk away before I had not only a broken marriage but a broken spirit.

Congratulations to those who chose wisely and have worked hard (I’m not saying good marriages are easy marriages) to maintain a happy, healthy relationship. You haven’t been where divorced people have been. Our cultural tendency to shame divorce like this keeps people in bad situations, married to people they shouldn’t have been married to in the first place as if divorce is giving up on something.

Considering the wealth of variables and intimate circumstances that comprise every marriage, it’s dangerous to traffic in absolutes. Displeasure at the heightening divorce rate should not be funneled into disdain for those friends and neighbors who make such agonizing decisions for their families. Any marriage that is being propped up solely by shame is probably not all that conducive an environment to kids or adults anyway.

To those champions of marriage and commitment, refrain from shame as a motivation. Advocate for the union you hold sacred by sharing your magic, your methods for reconciliation, and your tactics for navigating forever with all of us marital hopefuls. Heidi Klum and Seal are even divorcing now, so we can’t ask them.

(photo: Shutterstock)

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  • Claire

    Thank you for this article. I couldn’t agree more. After 6+ years of marriage, my husband and I are divorcing. We have 3 children and recognize from poor family examples that remaining married leads to a wealth of other problems for both the couple and the children. We don’t want that for our kids. We realize that even though we may love one another and care deeply for the other person – we are not a good married couple and staying married will only lead to resentment, fear, self-hate, anger, and a toxic and unhappy home. It is difficult to get people to understand that we are divorcing because it is the right thing to do and because we love ourselves and our children too much not to do the right thing. I’ve shared this article on my FB page in the hopes that those people we are collectively friends with who are struggling to understand how this could possibly be the right choice may read and begin to understand!

  • Frances

    It angers me that in this day and age this bias against divorced women still persists. My high school sweetheart and I split up after being together 8 years, and having one child together, and while it was a tumultuous relationship, we remained friends for our daughter’s sake. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been on the receiving end of judgement like the author describes here.

    People act shocked that I could be divorced at such a young age (under 30), and even more shocked that I can be on good terms with my ex. People assume that every divorce must be a painful, nasty ordeal, when in reality most people are simply making the best choice for their families and themselves.

    My current in-laws have even gone as far to say I must be having an affair with my ex because that’s the only way we could get along so well. It’s infuriating and frustrating. I hate the assumption that someone as young as I was when I divorced couldn’t possibly have known what she was doing, so there must be something suspicious or devious going on.

    At the end of the day, I don’t really care what people think. My ex and I made the best possible choice for our family, and came out on the other side better parents and better people, which is more than I could ever have hoped for. I hope this ridiculous notion that divorce is shameful finally runs it’s course.

  • RighttoWorkMom

    I think it’s unfortunate that so many people are made to feel poorly about their failed marriages. Presumably they have already been through more than their share of pain when their marriages ended (I have never been divorced, but I’ve never witnessed an “easy” divorce either).

    However, I have to admit that sometimes it’s disheartening to see so many people choose divorce. I’m not judging. The only people who really know what happens in a marriage are the people in the marriage. I would never tell someone that they should or should not get divorced. For me, though, it’s hard to see so many marriages end in divorce when the vow says “til death.” It seems like more and more second marriages are successful (I’m not looking at statistics, so I have no idea if that’s an accurate perception), but that still means making the vows to two different people.

    That being said, it isn’t my marriage. I don’t have any place to say any of this to someone offline, and I wouldn’t. I also don’t think shaming should EVER be a response to someone’s relationship problems. I’m going to assume that divorce was the best choice if that’s the choice the couple made. Regardless of how anyone feels about a marriage, a divorce, a live-in couple, etc., none of us are in a position to judge.

    I’m really hoping that people will realize I’m only sharing my perception on marriage as in the tradition of unity between two people. I am not offering any perception/opinion on the people involved.

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  • Liz

    Divorce damages…. damages the happy home a child deserves to be born into, deserves to grow up in, deserves to see both her own parents together as partners. It is even worse when the parents find new partners. For example, when a step mom is taking the place of the child’s own mom as the father’s partner, it can destroy the growing child in so many ways… including the child’s connectedness to the parents and to her own life in general. Can’t blame the kid for feeling unhappy, lost, lonely and despairing. Any child from babyhood days takes it for granted that both parents will be together, in a happy and loving home environment. Most behavioral problems, as well as later poor partner choices, promiscuity, addictions, and other damaging issues emerge from divorced/ unhappy homes.

    Admittedly, a parent cannot be expected to put up with a psycho spouse. THE ANSWER IS TO SELECT ONE’S PARTNER SENSIBLY. Everything boils down to how one is brought up. A home environment with mutual respect, and respect for elders and their good intentions should be fostered. Elders in the family should behave in a manner worthy of respect.

    Firstly, parents, friends, family and the community should help in finding eligible young people suitable partners who are undoubtedly KNOWN to be good in all important respects (no alcoholism or other addictions, who are responsible people, have good jobs, and who are brought up in good families in the right way, and who are willing to allow suitable future partners to be suggested for them).

    Secondly, parents of the young people getting married should be delicately involved in their child’s marriage, need to help in guiding their child correctly if there is any trouble. For this to happen, young people need to respect their elders, and elders should be ready to take responsibility for their grown child’s behavior and be willing to help out in making the required corrections.

    Thirdly, couples need to set a good example to their children, to the next generation. Right values are nurtured easily through the home environment. TO SUM IT UP, WE NEED TO SELECT RIGHT MARRIAGE PARTNERS TAKING THE HELP OF WELL-WISHERS.

    • Frances

      Not every divorce is as damaging as you describe. My parents divorced when I was very young, and it was the best possible thing they could have done. They are both wonderful parents, and my step mother, while not taking my mother’s place, is an important part of my life.

      DIVORCE is not t he problem. Bitter, unhappy divorce by people to immature to suck it up and split amicably is the problem. I do agree with you that people should pick their partners more carefully. Too many women and men are more concerned with the big day than choosing a suitable spouse and understanding the trials and tribulations that one must overcome to build a successful marriage.

    • Jessica

      I am insulted that you find children from divorced families to be so damaged, having poor relationships with either or both parents, behaving badly, and choosing bad relationships for themselves. I am so offended by your perception of divorced families I feel I have been verbally smacked in the face.

      My parents divorced when I was 8 years old. I did not love either parent any less, as the split was on good terms, they were just never meant to be a couple, something they found out four kids later. My parents are equally involved in my life, and both of them are my dearest friends, who have both been there for me through everything. They remained friends through their now 16 year separation. Also, I was a very good child. I was on the honor roll in school, and graduated with a 3.8 GPA, maintaining that grade point average the two years I attended college. I have never smoked, or done any drugs of any kind. I had my first alcoholic drink on my 21st birthday. I married the second man I ever dated. We became pregnant shortly after. After giving birth to our daughter on my last day of class, my second year of college I chose to be a stay at home mother until our children enter school.

      My parents divorce showed me not to settle. My parents divorce taught me to choose my partner wisely. My parents divorce remained civil, their relationship has remained close, so not only do I love my husband as my partner, I love my husband as my best friend. My parents did what they did for my sisters and I. And it was the best decision they could have made. I know many children from divorced families with stories similar to mine. I can understand that SOME of the situations are as you describe, but not all… not even most.

    • Guest

      Wow – not only did I have a stepmom that raised me, but I am a stepmom today as well and like to believe that I’m not “destroying” my step children, whom I adore. But thank you for such a cruel statement.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      My sisters’ mother was abusive, thanks to manifestations of a mental illness which was not detected until after her marriage. Do you think my dad should have stayed with her just for the image of a happy home, just because he wasn’t psychic? And after that, did he not deserve a chance with my mom? You’re horribly judgmental.

  • Liz

    @Frances: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. When I say divorce damages, I mean for children who are old enough to know what is happening (say by 3 or 4 years and older). I agree with you about how important it is to be prepared to tackle the ups and downs that are an inevitable part of married life.

    • Frances

      Your welcome! I see where you are coming from, and I’ve also seen the damages that a bitter divorce can cause.

      I do think, however, that regardless of the ages of the children involved, if a divorce is done with class and dignity, that it can often be the best possible thing for everyone involved.

      I also think that the huge popularity of weddings and wedding related things doesn’t do young women any good (Say Yes to the Dress, etc). People need to be more open about how difficult marriage can be because too many young girls care more about the dress and the ring and “their big day” and refuse to think about how things will be 10 years from now, or even 10 months. I don’t watch the Kardashian shows, but I did find one of the promos telling. The fiance says to Kim Kardashian “You don’t care about me, you could fit any guy into your plans” (or something to that effect.

      Choosing the best partner should be the utmost important factor. Not who can afford the biggest wedding. Not who will propose by the time their biological clock starts ticking.

  • Arnie

    Frances is on the money there. Finding the right partner, rather than someone who fills the role you have in your head is very important. I find it sad that so many people seem to be focused on the wedding, as opposed to the marriage. The wedding is just one day, the marriage is (hopefully) much longer than that, and it’s important to do a fair bit of work on it, and make sure that everyone is on the same page with expectations and what they want to happen.

    Divorce is frequently much, much better than the alternative. My father’s parents stayed together for the sake of their children and were miserable and bitter for it. To the point that now, more than twenty years after they finally split, my grandmother will still not speak of my grandfather. Growing up in a house like that was not at all helpful for their children. My father had sworn he would never even date, and it took my mother an awful lot of convincing to change his mind.
    Divorce is often the healthiest thing for the whole family, and usually much better than living in a house with unhappy parents.

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  • Paula

    Married people can talk all day long about what it takes to make a marriage work. When a couple are thinking about getting married, they hear what they want. The work of having a happy and successful marriage never ends. When they are so into the cake, the band, the dress……that’s not marriage. If they spent half as much time planning their whole future as they do planning their “perfect day” and honeymoon, they might stand a better chance. If you want your marriage to work, you make sure you and your future spouse agree on what you both want from life and each other. Discuss how you want your children raised, and don’t expect the other one to change their mind if you don’t agree. Be ready to put up with crap you never expected to, and to change things you don’t necessarily think need changing. It’s compromise and forgiveness, and starting over lots and lots of times. If you can’t handle that, then don’t do it.

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