How did the U.S. end up with double the percentage of children living without two parents compared to a lot of European countries? (link to some data) “Divorce Can Be an Act of Radical Self-Love” (New York Times, 9/30/2021) and similar celebrations of the path to bliss starting at the local family court might be partially explanatory (the cash incentives are very different too!).
Let’s see if the article is convincing:
… I’ve learned that divorce can also be an act of radical self-love that leaves the whole family better off. My divorce nearly seven years ago freed me from a relationship that was crushing my spirit. It freed my children, then 5 and 3, from growing up in a profoundly unhealthy environment.
Profoundly unhealthy environment? Dad was beating the wife and kids while smoking crystal meth and without taking any breaks to inhale “essential” (in Maskachusetts) healing cannabis?
There was no emotional or physical abuse in our home. There was no absence of love. I was in love with my husband when we got divorced. Part of me is in love with him still. I suspect that will always be the case. Even now, after everything, when he walks into the room my stomach drops the same way it does before the roller coaster comes down. I divorced my husband not because I didn’t love him. I divorced him because I loved myself more.
The mom/author says that she wanted more time to work:
I made choice after choice to prioritize my career because I believed fervently in the importance of the work I was doing, providing legal representation to wrongfully convicted men and women.
I have spent much of the pandemic interviewing working women who are diverse across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography, class, age and profession for a book I am writing about ambitious mothers and the benefits to their children when they prioritize their careers.
Talking to the subset who are divorced, I found a common theme, even a sisterhood: Divorce is painful and heartbreaking. But it can also be liberating, pointing the way toward a different life that leaves everyone better off, including the children.
One 38-year-old newly single mother who works full time and attends graduate school at night told me with pride that for the first time, she is living with her 9-year-old in an apartment she picked out, decorated and paid for on her own.
… for unhappily married women who are able to support themselves and their children, breaking free can also be like plunging into a cold ocean: a shock to the system that is at once brutal and cleansing. They can emerge stronger and clearer-eyed. Their children benefit because happier mothers are better parents.
That last one is my favorite. According to the author and the NYT editors, it is safe to assume that a person who is unhappy in a marriage is guaranteed to find enduring happiness just as soon as the divorce lawsuit is filed. And then the children will bask in the reflected glow of that enduring happiness as they shuttle back and forth between households, watch their college fund being spent on lawyers for both sides, etc. Certainly there is no possibility that the person dissatisfied with Situation A will become dissatisfied with Situation B. (A friend’s wife recently hired a 50ish woman to be her assistant. The woman complained that previous employers had mistreated her, sexually harassed her, etc. After a few weeks… she quit the assistant job.)
The first sentence in the above excerpt is also interesting. Mom says that she didn’t want to invest too much time in her kids because it was important to help the wrongfully convicted and the only way to truly focus on helping out in criminal court was via a trip to the local family court. But, unless the real answer is that she wanted to spend time have sex with new friends from Bumble, wouldn’t the optimum solution have been to dump all child- and household-related tasks onto the husband/father(maybe!) and hired help as necessary? The dad sounds like a total pushover: “He rarely travels and actively engages with nearly every aspect of our children’s lives no matter how mundane.” and “My ex-husband and I make a point of spending time together with our children, having regular dinners, watching sports and going for bike rides as a foursome.”
Overall, if it is this easy to use children’s feelings and words for one’s own benefit, almost any selfish adult decision can be justified. Imagine someone who identified as a “man” writing “I knew that my 5-year-old would be better off if he/she/ze/they could vicariously share the joy that I experience when out on Tinder dates with women 15 years younger than his/her/zir/their mom.” This was a popular perspective in the “do your own thing” era circa 1970 when no-fault (“unilateral”) divorce was being made available. According to the academic psychologists, this perspective is simply wishful thinking on the part of adults who are pursuing selfish goals. See “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: Report of a 25-Year Study”, in which 131 children of divorce were followed; they did not fare well compared to adults who had grown up in intact families. The PDF is available:
Hardly any of our subjects described a happy childhood; in fact a number of children told us that “the day they divorced was the day my childhood ended.” … By the 25-year mark, the majority had decided not to have children.
No child of divorce in our study was invited by both parents, either separately or together, to discuss college plans. … Only 57% of the divorce group achieved their bachelor’s degree as compared with 90% in the comparison group. … Unhappy, [those who did attend college] settled for fields of study that were not their first choice, at lower ranked institutions than their parents had attended. It was at this time that one young person, echoing the emotions of many others, commented bitterly, “I paid for my parents’ divorce.”
The central finding of this study is that parental divorce impacts detrimentally the capacity to love and be loved within a lasting, committed relationship.
A subgroup of over 20 women from the divorced group sought out multiple lovers. … Their sexual encounters seemed driven by anger at men, which even their close relationships with their fathers did not seem to mute.
(i.e., a mother’s alimony-fueled escape to Tinderhood can result in daughters who are passionate Tinder users as well)
I find this a fascinating cultural artifact, not so much that the law professor would justify reorganizing her own life for her own reasons as something that benefits her children, but that these rationalizations would be of wide enough public interest to merit publication in one of our biggest newspapers. That says something about how passionate New York Times readers are about living their best life, regardless of the consequences to children and others.
Full post, including comments
- the author, Lara Bazelon, was able to take time away from helping the wrongfully convicted to write an editorial for the New York Times complaining that Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t be enthusiastic about abortion (“the heart of the long, continuing march for gender equality”). This is consistent with her more recent NYT piece (above), since the best way to avoid being bothered by children is to abort them (legal right up to 36 or 37 weeks in Massachusetts if one doctor thinks the child who pops out will irritate the mother and therefore impair her mental health). Thanks to Professor Bazelon, we now know that a judge appointed by a Republican doesn’t love abortion as much as a Democrat-appointed judge would love abortion!
- “Female Voters’ ‘Marriage Gap’ And The Midterms” (NPR): “Married women tend to have more conservative beliefs and vote more for Republicans, while single women tend to be aligned more with Democrats.” (i.e., one way to boost votes for Democrats is to encourage women to file divorce lawsuits)
- Facebook uses a Malibu-flying engineering manager to promote careers in engineering… (we celebrate the mid-life gender ID change of a married “man” without considering the effects on the middle-aged wife and on the kids)