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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've just begun this book and the author makes a point I've never heard fleshed-out before:

In any marriage, two separate individuals are in a neverending process of reconciling differences in how they see themselves/the world and their beliefs/goals/priorities/values/preferences/opinions, etc. Whether they do this well or poorly, as long as they remain under the same roof, they will present one largely unified family life to their kids.

For example, the parents may have different ideas on how extravagantly they should live, but as long as they have one home, at any given time there will be one reality for their child as to how their family DOES live...whether that's because the parents compromised, or one parent gave in, or they just can't afford what the other parent wanted. Or if the parents disagree on the age at which their daughter should start dating: they may compromise or argue or manipulate each other, but eventually the daughter will be given some age at which she can date.

So, while kids of an intact marriage may be aware of some level of disagreement between their parents, they see their parents working (albeit poorly in some cases) to resolve those disagreements and still coexisting in the same home (even if unhappily). But despite the parents' differences:
* The kids experience one type of family life that is determined by however their parents manage to mesh their different approaches; and
* Figuring out how to bridge the gaps between themselves is the adults' job.

Marquardt suggests that the unspoken burden for kids of divorce is that the parents give up this job and create two separate family lives, which tend to become increasingly distinct because they're no longer trying to share one roof... But since their children remain part of BOTH their new lives - and are naturally driven to understand "who they are" and what kind of family they're from - the kids are left doing the work that the adults found too hard to continue: trying to resolve - at least in their minds - the differences between the parents and to construct some idea of "where they're from", when there appear to be two separate answers to that.. The child may feel like they are one person, from one type of family when they're with Mom and another type of person from another type of family when they're with Dad - and that this is inherently unsettling and unnatural.

At times, I think this is a good point. Other times, I question that what she describes is fundamentally different from intact families with significant differences between the parents (like major religious or ethnic differences), or intact families with high levels of conflict between the parents. I mean, wouldn't a kid with one parent from tribal Africa and one parent from Japan still feel like they come from two worlds, even if their parents are happily married? Even if a Jewish parent is willing to observe Christmas gift-giving with a Christian spouse and vice-versa about Hanukkah, doesn't their kid still feel like they come from two separate traditions? Then again, maybe the separateness of the households and traditions in a divorced family really is worse, for the kids.

What do you guys think? Has anyone else read this book? (It came out in '05 and I just found it on the $1 rack at Borders.)
 

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From what you've written, I think the author is starting from the premise that humans have by definition one identity only, or at least one primary identity. And that we can't "handle with ease" the multiplicity of reality, even within ourselves. And she's applying that notion to family dynamics in a restrictive way by assuming that it is always a negative thing.

She is also assuming and basing everything on the premice that divorce is always worse than intact familyhood (possibly with the exception of in cases of severe abuse or severe parental conflict).

People the world over live, feel and thrive with that sort of multiplicity of identity outside the family boundaries. Children of immigrants re: the old country vs. the new land; long-term immigrants who have fully assimilated themselves; children of parents from vastly different backgrounds even in intact families; etc.

While her point may apply in some cases, in the way that she intends it to, I think that reality is a bit more complex than her two premises.

Multiple identities are not always a bad thing, not always the equivalent of some sort of identity-based multiple-personality disorder, not always "competeing" within any one individual in a painful or conflicting way.

Even in cases where the obvious exceptions do not apply, divorce (of parents) is not always necessarily a bad thing for their joint children, not always and necessarily and obligatorily a source of trauma to overcome.

Sure, it may be that, perhaps even most of the time, but I would think that the trauma does not come from the divorce itself but from the way the parents handle the divorce and the post-divorce arrangements. Not from the fact that they divorced.
 

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Having grown up with divorced parents who had VERY different ideas about children and child-rearing (in fact, I think we, for the most part, knew that is why they divorced, as they knew each other for a long time and were married and lived together happily without children for quite some time), I don't think the book's assessment is totally accurate. I think parents can co-parent in a way that helps children resolve those differences, as my parents did... and as we strive to do for my step-daughter.

Having two such different families exposed me to a wider variety of choices for myself as a parent, so I can make choices about what kind of childhood I want my children to have and what kind of parent I want to be. I had more opportunity to try out different things (at my dad's I had to be bolder about approaching strangers or forming new friendships, at my mom's I could be over-run by my bold older brother) and eventually I could choose one or the other, or something in between-- I had the skills to do either and exposure to both. I had some freedom to experiment because I had different sets of friends at each house, so I saw the ability to be two different people as a plus because it gave me the opportunity to experiment with who I wanted to be and how I wanted to act.

Regardless of the rules or dynamics in either house, I knew I was loved and respected, and that my parents loved me for who I was (whoever that might turn out to be). I got lots of positive messages about myself as I figured out (as all children do) who I am and how I fit in. I think that was probably key. Also, neither parent let on if they thought the other parent was not making good choices for us-- my assumption now is that they took it up with one another if they had an issue, but as kids we never heard a bad thing about either parent.

So, I think it made me a much more adaptable and flexible person. I think I take time in a new group to assess the situation and figure out the "rules" and dynamics, but then am able to fit in to most any group comfortably.

That's my 2-cents anyway.
 

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My parents are not divorced, but growing up, I spend months at a time with my grandparents (all of my school vacations).

I knew that different houses meant different rules, different expectations, different levels of comfort. I adapted based on the environment.

If you think about it, half the day was spent in school, and again, it had different environment, different expectations, different rules. You figure it out and you adapt.

Even being in the same family, I knew my parents had two different sets of views and had to pick which ones fit me better.

Dunno. I don't mean to imply that it's easy to go through divorce as a child, but people have a knack of figuring out how things work in a particular setting, and kids get it: "I can do this here, but my mom doesn't like it. My dad likes to go out, my mom doesn't. My mom encourages me playing sports, my dad is okay if I don't", and then they choose what they identify with, what appeals to them, etc.

Just my take.
 

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A very interesting subject, thanks for sharing. I have heard of families where the parents are divorced, but instead of the kids shuttling back and forth, it's the parents that come and 'swap out'. The idea is to provide stability for the kids. It's kind of a nice solution in the sense the kids don't have to have their bags half packed all the time, or lose one thing here or there. Obviously this could only work in very specific situations, but I think it's nice.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I did finally finish the book and I'd recommend it. As it turns out, the target audience isn't the already-divorced. The author wants to push low-conflict couples who are considering divorce to try harder to keep their kids' families together and to reject pop-psych ideas popularized in the 60's-80's, like "Put yourself first. Whatever makes you happy will make your kids happy," and "Divorce doesn't upset kids, as long as there's civil co-parenting afterward."

Both the data at the end of the book and the author's statements throughout admit that kids fare worse in high-conflict marriages than in functional divorces. But when a parent just feels bored or unfulfilled, or becomes attracted to people other than their spouse and longs for fresh romance, or a couple argues - but not enough for their kids to be aware of it… kids do better if the parents make the effort to stay together and work to improve the marriage. And the fact that many children of divorce finish college and seem successful and mentally healthy as adults doesn't mean the divorce was "no big deal" for them or that the heartache and insecurity they suffered as children isn't relevant just because they appeared to "get over" it. All of that seems sensible, to me.

The idea most pertinent to those of us already in blended families is that children of divorce are aware that their parents were hurt by the divorce and often fear that if they - the kids - don't appear to adjust well, their parents will be more hurt and upset. So they may resist saying how heartsick or devastated or insecure or displaced they actually feel. And especially if kids are fed unrealistic "happy talk" about divorce (like children's books that paint having 2 homes as a carefree, desirable way to "double your fun" or "have the best of both worlds" or "have your cake and eat it, too")… then kids may also get the message that they're wrong to feel so upset about the divorce. The adults in their lives help them more by being willing to acknowledge, "Yes, this sucks for you. This is hard. This isn't the way life should be, ideally," just like we do when people have to deal with other devastating things.

I see the author's point, but I wish she'd been more specific about how to follow up on it:
* How DO you toe the line between acknowledging a kid's pain and teaching him how to handle and thrive in a less-than-ideal situation?
* When your kid seems well-adjusted and happy, how do you pick the moment to shatter that by pushing him to talk about upsetting things, to find out whether he's harboring dark feelings?
* The author talks at one point about how sad it is when kids feel uncomfortable in one parent's home, talking about the other half of their life, that occurs with the other parent. But she also talks about kids feeling uncomfortable if one parent questions them about things at the other parent's house, for fear the questioner is looking for dirt to use against the other parent. So, how DO you ask about your kid's other parent - so they know that's not a taboo subject - without making them wonder if you're hunting for evidence?

Interestingly, Mimosagirl, the author addresses the custody arrangement you mention, but thinks it's a bad idea, because it prolongs the instability of divorce. Kids don't have to be very old to realize that such an arrangement is only a remarriage, a serious girlfriend, or a big argument away from blowing up. It's not sustainable. But the fact that it's hard to imagine divorced adults living like that for very long sheds some light on the difficulties for kids of existing between 2 homes - something we expect them to be able to handle.
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jeannine View Post
But the fact that it's hard to imagine divorced adults living like that for very long sheds some light on the difficulties for kids of existing between 2 homes - something we expect them to be able to handle.
This part reminded me of my husband, who stays with friends one weekend a month and a few additional weeks during the year in order to exercise additional parenting time during the school year (we live on the other side of the US from my step-daughter's mom). The friends he stays with are our best friends and he absolutely loves being able to see his daughter and them so often, but he misses the rest of the family. He has to remember to pack all the things he needs, including his school work that he needs to work on while he is there, and he has to plan around these weekends. He often misses fun things with the family because that's when they are scheduled.

One thing that really helps him is predictibility and routine-- staying with the same people, having a regular daily routine that they follow, going to their favorite restaurants or activities. Another thing that is helpful is knowing ahead of time what to expect-- for example, planning an overnight camping trip or emailing the teacher about the schedule for the week and knowing about field trips or special activities. And it is also helpful to him that, though the rules and routines between the two places are different, they are consistent within themselves.

I guess he has a pretty keen insight into what we are asking of my step-daughter with custody arrangements... and its no surprise that the things he finds helpful are the same things we try to provide for my step-daughter!
 

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This post caught my eye because I am from a blended family. My biological parents divorced when I was a baby, and my Mom remarried. My Dad who raised me is Jewish, and Mom is Christian. So, I feel like I can relate to both sides of your question.

As a child, I felt very torn by my identity between my two biological families (birth father and birth mother). There was a significant difference in values, socio-economic background, etc. I was so eager to please that I acted completely different around each set of parents/grandparents. I still feel like a different person in the eyes of Mom vs. Dad.

Although my Dad who raised me was Jewish and Mom was Christian, I never felt torn between those identities. I was equally exposed to both faiths and cultures, and felt they were both a part of who I was (and still am). Maybe it's because there really isn't a huge difference between the values of both cultures...I'm not sure.

Just my experience...
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jeannine View Post

Both the data at the end of the book and the author's statements throughout admit that kids fare worse in high-conflict marriages than in functional divorces. But when a parent just feels bored or unfulfilled, or becomes attracted to people other than their spouse and longs for fresh romance, or a couple argues - but not enough for their kids to be aware of it… kids do better if the parents make the effort to stay together and work to improve the marriage. And the fact that many children of divorce finish college and seem successful and mentally healthy as adults doesn't mean the divorce was "no big deal" for them or that the heartache and insecurity they suffered as children isn't relevant just because they appeared to "get over" it. All of that seems sensible, to me.

* The author talks at one point about how sad it is when kids feel uncomfortable in one parent's home, talking about the other half of their life, that occurs with the other parent. But she also talks about kids feeling uncomfortable if one parent questions them about things at the other parent's house, for fear the questioner is looking for dirt to use against the other parent. So, how DO you ask about your kid's other parent - so they know that's not a taboo subject - without making them wonder if you're hunting for evidence?
I disagree with the premise that unless there is significant strife, it is better for adults/parents to stay together. My children (well, my older dd) was unaware of the majority of the unhappiness between her father and I - because there was little quantifiable 'unhappiness' to see.

We were two adults living as friends, heading in opposite directions. We attempted marital counseling, actually legally separated for fourteen months in 2005, reconciled, etc., only to have the relationship come to a screeching halt when my ex decided to stray outside the marriage.

In the end we parted as friends, because we each saw the other's position, but I know from my seven year old's point of view (six at the time) she was blown away because there were no 'big fights' or screaming, yelling, etc. Nor were there the cold periods of silence - we just continued on as normal.

Having said all that, I was completely unwilling to live that half-happy sort of life. Why? For my kids? Do my needs not come into play as well? And what are their needs anyway? An intact family? I hardly think so.

Now that their father and I are divorced, we're both much happier and more settled/secure. You can see it reflected in how more secure and self assured my two kids are... Both parents are more patient, etc. I could go on and on...

I just completely disagree with the notion of 'together at all costs' (barring abuse, etc.)

For the little part about asking your kids questions re: what goes on in the other house, I've learned very quickly to ask open ended questions. If I ask 'Did you have fun?' dd says 'Yes' and that's the end of it. Knowing her personality though, I know she wants to talk about her weekend. The trick is in asking her in such a way that she feels comfortable. Like, 'Tell me your favorite part?'

My ex asks the same kind of questions when he calls here to talk to dd, it's a great way to get the ball rolling in the conversation, without it seeming like you're digging. Neither of us ask any questions re: the other parent, but listen to jokes and stories as they come along (i.e. my seven year old talks incessantly about how her father snores - it's a family joke).
 

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Originally Posted by Ceinwen View Post
I just completely disagree with the notion of 'together at all costs' (barring abuse, etc.)
I would consider "straying outside of the marriage" (which you mention) to fall in the high-conflict category, even if the kids weren't aware of it. I think most people would agree that's not something a person should be expected to tolerate, in marriage. And your description makes it sound like you and your ex did try to keep things together, until he took things to that point. My ex also cheated at the very end, but I didn't look at that as the reason the relationship ended - I viewed it as his ultimate statement that he was done trying... which made me feel free and guiltless about not trying anymore, either. It sounds like you're saying the same thing: the affair was just the swan song for a marriage that wasn't working anyway. I also think if things became bad enough that you guys separated, obviously your kids were aware of problems. I had parents who separated several times when I was growing up, but ultimately stayed together and I'd say there's a definite argument for making a final decision and not leaving the kids in limbo. That's miserable!

Certainly, "staying together for the sake of the children" is only better for the kids IF the parents are capable of improving their relationship so that they're not miserable, or separating - or cheating! And only the two people in the marriage can really know whether that's possible, whether divorce is easy and selfish, or whether it's a necessity.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ceinwen View Post
Neither of us ask any questions re: the other parent, but listen to jokes and stories as they come along (i.e. my seven year old talks incessantly about how her father snores - it's a family joke).
That's how it is with my kids, re their dad. But my step-son lived for years with his mom, who very clearly makes him feel like he's betraying her if he feels close to his dad, or wants to be with him, or enjoys doing things with him. So, when my step-son moved in with us 2 years ago, it really felt necessary for my husband and me to make a point of bringing up his mom and things they do together as part of casual conversation, to show him that he doesn't have to avoid talking about her, to spare our feelings - that he won't get a negative reaction from us if he talks freely about her. Most of the time our approach seems to work, but there are times he seems unexpectedly defensive about it, too - and I assume he's worried that we're trying to "gather evidence" about her, like he's accustomed to her doing, about his dad. It's a tricky dynamic!

Aricha - I like how you compared your husband's and your step-daughter's experiences. You always seem to have things very well-thought-out!
 

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jeannine View Post
Certainly, "staying together for the sake of the children" is only better for the kids IF the parents are capable of improving their relationship so that they're not miserable, or separating - or cheating! And only the two people in the marriage can really know whether that's possible, whether divorce is easy and selfish, or whether it's a necessity.
I think you made the point here that I wanted to make. I suppose this naturally is a pretty sensitive topic for some people--nobody wants to be accused that their reasons for divorcing were selfish or unnecessarily harmful to their children. I think the trouble with saying, "Divorce is only acceptable/minimally damaging to children, etc. when it is done for THESE reasons..." is that nobody can really properly define or identify when divorce really is the best thing or when it's, as you say, "easy and selfish." It's just, IMO, waaaaay too complicated to say.

I also think the bi-cultural analogy is a good one! My dp (who is Spanish) had expressed a mild concern over raising our children (my dd and our child, who is due in July) bilingual for fear that it will create a sort of split identity. My feeling was and is (and I have convinced him of this, as well!) is that being bilingual/cultural is actually a gift, that it enhances one's identity rather than confuses or refracts it.

I love what Ione said, and I think she's absolutely right: the whole premise of the author's argument is based on defining identity and how it is formed in a certain way...and I don't happen to think that it's a very accurate or properly nuanced explanation!
 
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