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Jewish World Review Dec. 10, 2002 / 5 Teves, 5763

Betsy Hart

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Consumer Reports

The case for the "good divorce"


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | There they were -- a picture of the smiling, all American family on the cover of the Washington Post magazine. Three girls, mom and dad -- and a caption that read "The Good Divorce: One Couple's Attempt to Split Up Without Tearing the Kids Apart."

This is only the latest media effort to sanitize a family breakup at the hands of a selfish mom or dad - or both. This month's Parenting Magazine featured a similar article titled "From One House to Two: Do a Mom and Dad Have to Live together to Raise a Happy Family?" by divorced mom Laura Stavoe Harm.

The titles tell much of the story - and give the term "rationalization" new meaning.

Looking back at me from the cover of the Post magazine is a middle-aged woman who divorced a middle-aged man because she couldn't "emotionally connect" with him. Though they had had, she says, "an incredibly functional marriage" and "we believed ourselves to be happy." But, she says, "people have one shot at life."

So now she has this great divorce going. Ex-hubby comes to the house every morning to help get the girls up and off to school. The family chats, sometimes has dinner together, and recently they even vacationed en masse.

If the divorce is so great, why not stay married?

Because mom has bigger plans. She's looking for a soul mate. Apparently she forgot that she already chose a mate, but who are we to judge? Anyway, if somehow lightning strikes and the romantic fantasy this woman has concocted in her head does show up, is he going to put up with Dad's puttering around in the kitchen in the morning? Not likely. Still, maybe the follow-up Post piece can talk about how new boyfriend and ex-husband trade sports stats and borrow tools from each other.

Back at Parenting, Harm writes with apparent seriousness that "her husband's offer to spend Christmas away from his sons reminded me how much he loves them."

Anyway, it's not clear why she divorced.

But, as in all marital breakups, one or both partners broke a promise.

(And it's not always the person who actually initiates the divorce. I agree that abuse, adultery, or addiction might force the hand of a loving partner.)

In any event, it's true that not all children are devastated by divorce over the long-term, though they are far more likely to suffer emotional problems and do worse in school and in their relationships later in life than their peers from intact homes. Still, many will "bounce back" to some extent, after at least a two year or so period in which almost all children of divorce suffer significant grief, loss, and emotional turmoil.

But that is the best-case scenario. So how can supposedly loving parents willingly put their children through such a "bounce," for such a significant portion of their youth, in order to pursue their own desires?

And the evidence here is clear: except in the most violent and high conflict marriages, today's studies show that children are still happier and better off over the long-term with "unhappily" married parents than with divorced parents. But of course, kids do best when their parents are happily married. That's one reason why no one I know suggests unhappy people should stay together for the sake of their kids. Instead, they should find a way to be happy.

Happiness is so often a matter of choice, of getting the focus off of ourselves, and it doesn't always have to be a hard choice at that. Maggie Gallagher writes in her book "The Case for Marriage" that in a broad survey of self-described very unhappy marriages, five years later fully 86 percent of couples who stuck it out described their marriages as "happier" with most saying they were now "very happy." Many of these couples received no counseling.

In other words the act of staying together, of persevering, in and of itself often ended up producing a happy marriage.

Now that's connection.

Another "connection" is understanding that marriage is about more than any two people. (Which means, for starters, that those two people don't have the right to pursue a fleeting notion of happiness at the expense of a child or spouse.)

Marriage is about the fabric of civilization, and the responsibility we have to each other and to each other's children to keep that fabric from unraveling. That means that no matter how the media and the Post's divorced poster mom might wish to portray it otherwise, there is no "good divorce."

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.

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