Divorce is not another word for disaster.
Divorce at best is an unhappy experience, and it may not even be a solution. Yet, in itself, divorce need not be either a bad thing or a good thing. It is only what the human beings involved may make of it.
All change is difficult, and divorce, whatever else it may be, is change. Convalescence, the change from illness to health, is also difficult
If you who read these pages are facing a divorce or are already in the meshes of one, or if you are attacking the many-headed problems which come after divorce, there is one thing you may be sure of – you are not alone. Last year some 350,000 couples parted from each other in the divorce courts of the United States. About the same number will be taking the same step this year, and they will face many of the same problems.
Nearly half this number will be, like you, parents. They, like you, will be seeking ways to safeguard their children from the hurt of divorce or to heal the wounds already suffered. There are a million and a half children of divorce under the age of eighteen in the United States, and their number is being increased by about 300,000 every year. So you and your children are not alone in your trouble. You are part of a vast and growing special population.
Yet, comforting as the thought may appear in print, when you lift your eyes from this page you know that your difficulties are still your own no matter how many other men and women may have similar difficulties. Your problems are yours to face and yours to solve. Your children depend on you to protect them from the shocks and bruises of a stormy experience.
You can protect them.
Divorce is not automatically a destructive experience. It may also be a cleansing and healing one, for the child as well as you. Your support can help your child through its hardships. You can relieve him of guilt and fear; you can assure him that his parents’ love for him is no less than it was before. With your guidance he can find security in the new setting of his life. He can come to accept his parents’ failures as weaknesses. He can even come to accept the total or nearly total failure of a parent who, because of alcoholism, or mental illness, or other disabilities is considered “unfit.”
We shall not pretend with each other that any of this is easy. Nor shall we pretend that children, any more than their parents, emerge from the divorce experience without some cost. All difficult experience exacts its price.
Yet divorce is not the costliest experience possible to a child. Unhappy marriage without divorce – what we shall call emotional divorce – can be, as we shall see, far more destructive to him than divorce.
You as a parent will not be dismayed to learn that safeguarding your child through divorce will demand of you your best wisdom, your most loving effort. If you have even given enough thought to these matters to look for help in this book, it surely means that you want to protect your child.
Perhaps you already know intuitively a curious fact – that if you invest effort for your child’s sake during this period, it will bring you not less, but more, comfort, more peace of mind. You may also find, as many parents have, that in seeking insight into your child’s emotional confusion you bring new illumination to your own; that in forestalling or easing his pain you can uncover and heal some unsuspected sources of suffering within yourself.
across an emotional no man’s land Many men and women in the divorce situation find themselves able to go far in helping their children once they begin to seek the way. Recently I was asked for a consultation about a little girl of six whose mother had remarried. The question was whether the child should be legally adopted by her stepfather.