Saturday, June 3, 2017

The systematic silencing of the children of divorce (Or, "What I've learned recently")

This is a "what I've learned" post.

It's late, and I'm tired, but sometimes my clearest thoughts come when I just commit to throwing them out on the page, stream of consciousness.

So here it is. 

As you may know, I've been immersed in a subject that, up until a few months ago, held no real interest for me. I have been teaching the Catholic faith for some 23 years now, and a huge focus for me has been marriage, family, human sexuality, raising up holy Catholic kids, fighting the culture war on the redefining (un-defining) of marriage, etc. 

And in all of that teaching, for over two decades of my life, I never much cared or thought about the issue of divorce, aside from lip-service... "Oh, divorce is bad. Yep, it's bad. We Catholics are against it. Yep." And in the meantime, I have looked the other way for the most part, or even tacitly approved of some friends' divorces (much to my shame now).

Every now and then I would write a blog post about the cop-out that is most divorces, and sometimes I would counsel a Catholic woman not to divorce (usually after the rest of her Catholic girlfriends told her to go "be happy"), but then I put it out of my mind and went back to my intact, uncomplicated life. <----- a fact I never realized until I discovered the complications children of divorce deal with every day.

Never in a million years did I think divorce would be "my issue." I simply have no real connection with it. It has not touched my life in a meaningful way.

What I now understand is that I was blind. I had no idea what was going on all around me, and I couldn't see the walking wounded of divorce, because so many of them appear so incredibly successful and put together. 

Maybe it's more accurate to say that I didn't hear the walking wounded, and neither do you. But that's because--and here it is--they don't speak.

They don't speak!! 

After the rush of adult children of divorce who volunteered to fill out my little divorce questionnaire (98% of them on the condition of complete anonymity), I was exposed to a world that I didn't know existed. Pain, suffering, anger, confusion, sorrow, insecurity, grief, disconnectedness--often many long years, even decades, after the divorce of their parents. So many different circumstances, completely different stories, and yet the same universal feelings. (Since my book was published, the contributors themselves have remarked that they sometimes thought the words of fellow contributors were their own!) 

Because of the silence and the hidden pain, these adult children of divorce did not even know that there were others like them! I could write several blog posts just on that point alone, and how the knowledge of others who understand them has been a huge relief and help in healing. One contributor compared the knowledge and friendship of the others to a reunion of "old war buddies."

They are all veterans of those wars, indeed, but they thought they were the only ones still nursing the old shrapnel from the explosion that blew apart their families--and their foundational security.

And that leads me to what I really want to say: The absolute disbelief I have at the unwillingness of much of the general public to hear what the children of divorce have to say. I can't get over it. Every time I post the words of the children of divorce on my Facebook page, two things happen. 

First, I get a flurry of responses from children of divorce (or abandoned spouses), thanking me for giving them a voice. Usually this is done via private message, so as not to out themselves. 

And then, on my page and others' pages (those who post the link or commentary from Primal Loss), there are the "divorce defenders." They are not only unhappy with any talk that says divorce harms children, they also want no part in hearing what the 70 contributors to my book have to say. When someone really digs in, touting the beauty and goodness of divorce (and yes, many are Catholic), I have offered to email a free PDF copy of the book, no strings attached, just so they can hear the voices of the children. (Only one woman veeeeeeery reluctantly agreed to receive it, and I have yet to hear back from her.)

One woman went so far as to question why a book like mine was even written. She asked, repeatedly, What purpose does it serve? Why is it published at all? In fact, a book like mine, she said, should not be published. I kid you not.

So, what is this deeply offensive book? Aside from the introduction and a few other components, it's not my words. In fact, the bulk of the book consists of eight chapters that contain not a single word of mine. Eight chapters of "no Leila." I did not "write" the book. The children of divorce wrote the book. They answered eight simple questions posed to them about their experiences and feelings and thoughts about the breakup of their families. I did not cherry-pick and I did not censor. I let them talk. And yet, that, apparently, is going too far. 

A question I have taken to asking those who resent the book's existence: Do you think that the voices of the children of divorce are too frequently heard? Do they talk too much? Is their view presented too often? Or...could it be the opposite? Could it be that the adults, the divorced parents, the culture of no-fault divorce get the bulk of the time and attention and sympathy? If we are honest, we know it's the latter.

Seeing how quickly the children of divorce are pounced upon and their perspective invalidated, I now understand why they don't speak, or only speak anonymously (and even then, with terror of being found out). Grown men and women, afraid to say how they really feel about their parents' divorce, even decades later! Why? Because they don't want to hurt their parents, whom they love; because they don't feel secure enough to tell the truth (if one has seen that conflict leads to permanent separation, one learns to avoid conflict); because the divorce narrative cannot be contradicted without serious consequences and penalties; because when they do speak, they are reminded--scolded!--that they are wrong and the divorced parent is right. 

I've seen it happen now, with my own eyes, and it's as shocking to me as it is (now) predictable.

When my friend Alishia (the inspiration for the book) told me carefully worded and oh, so casual stories over the course of a few years about the effects of her parents' divorce on her life, I encouraged her to write about it--but she always demurred. Turns out, it was wise that she did not write her own book, as that would have set her up as a target... which would have been devastating. Not only would she have been accused of having an ax to grind against her parents, but she would've had to beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught, to protect herself emotionally (something children of divorce learn early). 

As for me, I have no skin in the game. I can take the attacks and not be wounded. I can give the children a place to speak, where they can be free to say what they could never say to their own parents, much less the rest of the divorce-affirming culture. (By the way, I can count on one hand how many of the 70 actually disclosed to their parents that they participated in this book; in fact, most have told only their spouses and very few others; this is how guarded they still are.)

Okay, it's late (actually early). I've got to get to bed. But please, allow this book to have its place in the divorce discussion. Let the children of divorce have their small say. We hear from the divorced/divorcing adults all the time. Surely there is a little place at the table for those who are most affected and least able to have any say in the break up of their families. 

And please, pray for them. They are incredible and strong, but they have a lot of healing still to do, and I hope we will allow them that. And the healing begins by giving them their voice and actually listening to what they are telling us. 

The Foreword to the book can be found, now as its own explosive article, here:


  1. It has been crazy watching the commentary. I am surprised how often the defenders lack self awareness. They usually start by saying something stated by the now-adults is Never true. When challenged they fight tooth and nail and eventually say "I am reacting to the idea all divorces are bad." (Which no one ever said. The only one who ever said something was always or never true was the defender.)

    There isn't a therapist in the world that wouldn't say this behavior is manipulative. The defenders attempt to invalidate the first statement by acting like it is ridiculous. When that doesn't work, they play the victim. I never knew this was a common method to silence people. It is referred to as DARVO "deny, attack, reverse victim and offender"

  2. Didn't know the method had a name. DARVO is what they do!

  3. I didn't know it had a name, either!! Wow!!

  4. Guys! The Foreword of the book, written by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse (an EXPLOSIVE expose of the Divorce Fantasy World) is now its own article, here:

  5. I'm not at all surprised at the reaction you are getting. They sound just like what we experience in the adult adoptee community, when we express the pain of losing our families, and try to "reinvent" adoption to be in the true best interests of the child. I also have to blog under a pseudonym, although I do post articles to my facebook page. I get lots of people saying "keep posting, I can't do it, I'm not brave enough." At this point I've lost everything so I might as well. Adoptees even have their own similar book - The Primal Wound. I hope everyone reads your book. Maybe someday people will wake up to the pain of the messed up biological family.

    1. Thanks for your perspective. I hope any adoptive parent (and I know many wonderful friends who have adopted) are sensitive to the fact that every single adoption is born out of a loss. It's important to remember and thankfully, I repeat that often (as do my friends).

      Also, for donor kids, there is (again, they have to be anonymous so as not to hurt their parents).

  6. Some of the comments are now gone which is really too bad. One person made the comment that divorces as a result of abuse shouldn't be used to silence others who are talking about different situations. The poster worded it better but it was very eye opening to me. She was right.

    What has never made sense to me is why so many people in abusive marriages engage in these arguments. Surely, they are just as aware as the rest of us that all (and not even most) divorces are the result of abuse. Wouldn't they be a little miffed at how quick others are to pull the line on their marriage? I always thought it a bit like those who were raped would be furious at the false accusations.

    I have a lot of respect for those who discuss divorce and flat out admit there was no abuse.

    1. Great point! Those who are truly abused should be offended that that everything now is called "abuse"-- and that it's used to justify divorce, even when it's normal sin and strife in a marriage (since we are ALL sinners and we ALL have treated our spouses poorly in our marriages).

  7. How could you ever have had an uncomplicated life with eight children? :-)

  8. From someone who wants to remain anonymous:

    Most of it for me is that my relationship with my mother is so volatile, I have to walk on eggshells. We have a cycle. She plays nice- I tolerate her while she plays nice- then she starts pushing- I keep my boundaries up- she explodes- she ignores me for months- repeat.

    Anyway, God-forbid I say something wrong and speed up the process. I think it's possible a lot of children of divorce have such relationships with their parents and it's easier to stay silent instead of inviting more drama into their lives (which, have had plenty of drama already, thankyouverymuch).

    Now, I have gotten past caring. I have decided that I went through what I went through for a reason and I need to share. If telling the truth hurts, so be it. It was my childhood. I am going to share. But I know that many people cannot or will not ever get to the point of being able to share.

  9. Thank you for writing about this. My parents divorced 38 years ago when I was 14 and I consider it the single worse thing that has ever happened in my life. And I was fortunate in that I didn't have to move or change schools and neither parent remarried. I have told my parents that this was devastating for me and my brothers. The thing that has brought me great comfort was that a priest was told me once during confession that in the eyes of the church my parents are still married. And that this may have been the best way for them to "work out their vocation". So I tend to think of my parents as still married just not living together - lol. I could write more, but thanks for covering the topic

  10. Congratulations on your book. I have read about half of it. It is hard to read. I keep having to re-read the hope chapter in between the stories. I hope a publisher picks it up. Catholics and non-Catholics who are considering divorce should read it. I will buy a paperback if I need to pass to others.

    I also saw the Divorce Corp documentary linked in your FB. My husband and I watched all of it last night. It is a horror film. In my opinion family court should be non-profit. It is the same as for profit prisons and medical. Everyone deserves to make a living but what I saw in that documentary is wrong. These people are taking advantage of the children. I knew it was bad but had no idea how bad.

    I pray that if I ever got mixed up thinking that I needed to divorce that I wouldn't sic the family court on my husband. I just can't imagine doing that to him and my kids. Sure, I can be selfish and want out. Okay but does that mean I have to ruin 6 other lives plus the rest of my family. Our parents would be destroyed too. I imagine our siblings would be dragged in also. Just awful!

    1. LizaMoore, thank you. It really is a societal and personal tragedy. I can't get over it. It's so sad and so wrong. Such injustice.

      Thanks for your support.

  11. I’m very late coming to this but as a divorced, remarried Catholic I had to make some points to add to yours.
    My marriage to my first husband was annulled by the Catholic Church and I fought mightily for over 5 years to keep my marriage. I believed and still believe that divorce is wrong for a family and wrong for the children.
    In the end, my was unable to be saved. I don’t want to go into painful details here other than to say that it’s almost impossible to save a marriage when your spouse is not committed to it. Marital counseling, attending Retrouville, spiritual retreats, family vacations nothing worked and my spouse was simply not interested in continuing our marriage.
    I can validate what you say about children of divorce because my children suffered mightily and I suspect still do today as adults, despite being good, kind hard working individuals.
    I can tell you how much my son and daughter struggled with trust, relationships when they were younger and until young adulthood. The fact that their father chose to abstain from participating in their day to day lives still pains me today.
    This despite having married a very good and kind man who has been part of their lives since they were 9 and 11.
    I am firmly against divorce but sadly there are instances where there was no other alternative. I am grateful my annulment was granted, grateful for the help of my family priest who provided support and direction towards my annulment when there was no other way for my marriage,
    Everyone suffered horribly but I have no doubt the children suffered most of all.


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