How Divorce Affected An Entire Generation
Generation X was raised in an environment where divorce was more rampant that at any other time in our nation’s history. That fact alone has shaped and molded an entire generation of children raised in “broken homes” and “step families.” Today, we are going to look at how divorce affected an entire generation of kids from their youth and well into their adult years.
A while back on the Wall Street Journal online, I found a testimonial that really speaks to what it was like to grow up as a child of divorce. The article by Susan Gregory Thomas, titled The Divorce Generation, recounts Ms. Thomas’ experiences in her own parents’ divorce, how that event has followed her throughout her life, and what it meant when she eventually divorced her own husband. In her story, we see many of the impacts that divorce has on children.
Her article starts with this sobering observation:
Every generation has its life-defining moments. If you want to find out what it was for a member of the Greatest Generation, you ask: “Where were you on D-Day?” For baby boomers, the questions are: “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “What were you doing when Nixon resigned?”
For much of my generation—Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980—there is only one question: “When did your parents get divorced?” Our lives have been framed by the answer. Ask us. We remember everything.
We were a generation, Ms. Thomas and I share the designation, raised amongst some of the highest divorce rates in our country’s history. Indeed, divorce rates peaked in this country as we were coming of age. Divorce became socially acceptable and a common part of our everyday lives. Even those of us who were not touched personally by divorce were surrounded by friends, relatives and acquaintances who were. Talk of step-moms and half siblings became as commonplace as Pac Man and parachute pants.
The article recounts the impact of the divorce on Ms. Thomas’ family. She recalls how her Mom changed in her estimation from regal to “a phantom in a sweaty nightgown and matted hair.” Likewise, she remembers how her brother who had been, in her words, sweet and goofy, “grew into a sad, glowering giant, barricaded in his room with dark graphic novels and computer games.”
She tells the story of getting into trouble as an adolescent, smoking, doing drugs, and getting kicked out of school. She remembers spending vast amounts of time alone as:
…members of the giant flock of migrant latchkey kids in the 1970s and ’80s. Our suburb was littered with sad-eyed, bruised nomads, who wandered back and forth between used-record shops to the sheds behind the train station where they got high and then trudged off, back and forth from their mothers’ houses during the week to their fathers’ apartments every other weekend.
In this testimonial, we see some of the very real outlets that many adolescent children of divorce choose for their anger and sense of rejection stemming from divorce. Many times, these habits last well past adolescence. In fact, Ms. Thomas remembers one friend who was also a child of divorce who drank himself into an early grave by the age of 30.
Fearful of divorce, Ms. Thomas and her eventual husband lived together before marriage to make certain they were compatible. And, like many children of divorce from Generation X, she vowed never to get divorced:
No marital scenario, I told myself, could become so bleak or hopeless as to compel me to embed my children in the torture of a split family…To allow our own marriages to end in divorce is to live out our worst childhood fears. More horrifying, it is to inflict the unthinkable on what we most love and want to protect: our children. It is like slashing open our own wounds and turning the knife on our babies. To consider it is unbearable.
Despite the supposed “resilience of children,” Ms. Thomas is one is a long string of children of divorce who suffered first-hand and pledged to do anything to keep her own children from having to suffer through the same thing.
When her first child was born, Ms. Thomas took the route of many from her generation. She explains,
Orphans as parents—that’s not a bad way to understand Generation X parents. Having grown up without stable homes, we pour everything that we have into giving our children just that, no matter how many sacrifices it involves.
And, like many from her generation, despite the best of intentions, she did end up divorcing her own husband in the end. She summarizes it this way,
I have yet to meet the divorced mother or father who feels like a good parent, who professes to being happier with how their children are now being raised. Many of us have ended up inflicting pain on our children, which we did everything to avoid.
Stories like those recounted by Ms. Thomas remind us of the very real impacts of divorce on very real children. I don’t know if there was someone available to her to help her through her parents’ divorce, but judging by her story, I suspect that there was not. As the church, we can fill the gap often left by parents who are so consumed with their own issues that they do not attend to the emotional and spiritual needs of their own children. As the church, it should be our role to advocate for, and minister to, these children. Ms. Thomas’ story should remind us, and motivate us, to help children who are currently dealing with their parents’ divorce.
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on August 08, 2011.