Reading the new issue of TIME magazine last night, I came across an article that says divorce is worse for children than most people believe.
Here I am, sixty years old, having been raised by my mother, no contact with my father except some phone calls and a one hour visit shortly before he died, and now it seems that I should be even more screwed-up than I've considered myself to be.
Caitlin Flanagan, who must be super well-adjusted since her article starts off by mentioning her parents' 50th wedding anniversary, writes:
Well, here's my utterly biased and unashamedly personal take on this sociological research: who cares?
Because even though in the aggregate all those nasty effects of divorce may be true, I'm not a big believer in normalcy.
Flanagan disses heterosexual divorce, along with gay couples who want to raise a child. Her vision of the American good life is a married man and woman staying together til death do them part.
OK. That will work for some people.
It didn't for my mother, who divorced my jerk of a father for exceedingly good reasons and never remarried. It didn't for me, who got divorced after eighteen years of marriage when my daughter was a junior in high school.
In addition to growing up without a father, my mother was an off-an-on alcoholic.
"On" marked most of my early teen years, when I had to face the trials and traumas of adolescence while listening to my mother ramble on at night in a highly disturbing vodka-fueled fashion from her room next to mine while I wondered "what the fuck is life all about?"
And let's leave it at that. I loved my mother. I still do. But to put it mildly, growing up with her challenged me.
So much so, there were many times in high school when I'd drive by our small town's only liquor store and fantasize about throwing a rock through the window and trashing the interior so people would realize that beneath my more-or-less normal exterior persona lurked the underground psyche of a seriously disturbed kid.
Yet...when I finished reading Flanagan's article, which ends with a Hallmark sentiment that made me want to barf ("What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate"), I had these thoughts:
Would I change anything about my childhood? If I could have grown up with a happily married mother and father, neither alcoholic, in a nice warm and fuzzy family cocoon, would I choose this?
I like who I am. I like who my mother was. Why, I even like who my father was. Each of us is/was imperfect, flawed, unbalanced, dysfunctional to some degree or another.
In short: interestingly human.
Now, I'm not saying that people with fewer quirks are necessarily less interesting than deviants from the psychological norm. I've just always found the complex taste of eccentricity, even when it approaches serious pathology, to be more appealing than white bread normalcy.
For sure, I'm a product of my family heritage. Who isn't?
As a child I heard plenty of tales of divorce, alcoholism, affairs, and other assorted weirdness during the cocktail hours, where I'd carry drinks around and pass the nuts while absorbing the adult conversation.
Early on I grokked that abnormality was the normal way to live. I still believe this.
Life simply is too complex, too individualistic, too passionate, too beset with dark desires and bright aspirations to be capable of reduction to sociological or psychological platitudes. Such as "divorce is bad for kids," or "an alcoholic single parent will screw up his or her children."
What's bad? What's good? What's a screw-up? What's normal?
I don't know. Like I said, I just know that however I was raised -- flawed, fine, or whatever -- this is how I'm thankful it happened. I wouldn't want to be anyone other than who I am now.
A child of divorced parents. Who did their best. And sometimes their worst. All of which combined to make my life a heck of a lot richer and more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
So I return to my title:
If divorce screws kids up, what's wrong with that?