by Katie Allison Granju
The day my father told me he was leaving my mother, I cried. I begged him not to do it. For months after he left I had nightmares and began to question the very foundations of my reality. I felt depressed, betrayed, and inexplicably bereft.
In short, my parents' divorce was one of the most painful experiences I've ever been through. It happened last year. And I was 32 years old at the time.
Lately my own marriage has been hard. Very hard. I have been with this manthe father of my childrenfor 12 years now, and just when I think we may be getting the hang of this marriage thing, we falter.
There have been many times over our more-than-a-decade together when I have wanted to walk away. We certainly started our married life together with many strikes against us. We were barely out of our teens. We were flat broke. Neither of us had graduated college yet. I became pregnant immediately and without sufficient understanding of what we had gotten ourselves into. And somehow here we are, still married and still (on most days) committed to staying married.
During the hardest times, when I have most wanted to cut and run, I have done something that seems to have gone out of fashion around the time of Sputnik: I have stayed for the sake of the children. We have three of them, now ages 10, 6, and 4, and they happen to like having an intact family. Oh, I know about all the studies that indicate that children in a so-called "good divorce" can be just fine. I've heard the divorced parents talk about how they couldn't be good parents in an unhappy marriage. And I certainly don't want to sound holier-than-thou. God only knows I've told more than one of my own friends in an abusive or clearly hopeless marriage that she should leave.
But most marriages aren't as simple as that. In most marriages, there is no hitting or screaming. There are, however, those days and weeks of quiet desperation and the strange kind of loneliness that comes from being far away from the person to whom you should feel closest. There are irritations and resentments and in my own case, occasional periods of feeling really sorry for myself. But there are also these three children and this family, which matter more than my individual needs on any given day.
In the book I authored on parenting, I quoted anthropologist Jean Liedloff as saying that "a baby's cry is precisely as serious as it sounds." My point was that in American culture, we often too readily dismiss a baby's crying as meaningless background noise rather than hearing what the baby is trying to tell us: that she needs to be touched or held or talked to. While it's true that babies can survive and overcome an infancy in which their cries go unanswered, in order to thrive, babies must come to believe that their needs are heard and that they are important.
American children have been telling us in every way they know howfrom high rates of depression to sexual acting out to an inability to form their own lasting commitmentsthat they do not want their parents to get divorced. I am always amused when I hear researchers and therapists opine that "studies show" that divorce isn't such a big, bad deal to kids. After all, most children with divorced parents do go on to survive and overcome. But I would venture to guess that if these statistics on divorce were translated into real, live children and if we asked those children directly what they need from their parents, they would, almost to a child, tell us that they want their parents to create and commit to lasting, dependable relationships to one another and to their family...even when the going gets tough.
I can't say for certain that I will never divorce. I know better than to ever say never. But I do believe that every day that I can give my children the launching pad of a home in which they see two adults willing to keep trying as a love offering to the greater good that is our family is a worthwhile achievement. And miraculously, when I hang in there through the rough patches, I generally emerge on the other side with a greater sense of self-worth and confidence in my ability to be the best personindividual, mother, and wifethat I can be. But the best reward is reflected in the eyes of three happy, healthy, generally well-adjusted children who trust that the most important adults in their lives aren't going anywhere.
Katie Allison Granju is the author of Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child (Simon and Schuster/1999).
January 31, 2002 * Vol. 12, No. 5
© 2002 Metro Pulse