Stay Together for the Kids

It’s often said that divorce is better than exposing children to constant parental arguments. In reality, of course, divorce doesn’t put an end to conflict–but even if it did, even if most divorcees were capable of the mythical child-centered divorce, would it still be superior to a conflict-ridden childhood?

I know full well how devastating parental fights are from a child’s perspective. I remember the queasiness I felt whenever I heard a familiar edge creep into my mother’s tone, which signaled a fight brewing. And I remember, in a moment of frustration, telling my parents that they should just divorce already and spare me the pain of their constant bickering.

Well, they didn’t–and I’m glad. They’ve mellowed in their old(er) age, have improved their marriage, and are much more pleasant to be around now. They’ve proved that a snapshot in time–particularly those first few stressful years of raising young children–doesn’t provide the full picture of marriage, that it can grow and improve over time.

But you know what? Even if things hadn’t gotten better, I’d still be glad to be an adult with two married parents.

Having an intact family provides an experience of continuity that just can’t be beat. Like many twentysomethings today, I’m nomadic–I can’t bring my husband into my childhood home and show him the trees I’ve climbed, the secret hiding place in my bedroom wall, the fireplace where we used to gather at Christmas. We’ve moved around a lot and haven’t put down roots anywhere. But I can bring him to where my parents live today, and, as different as it is geographically from my childhood home, it still holds my past. My dad’s clutter, my mom’s jam cookies baking in the oven, the stories about that time my toddler self put a bead up my nose, the yellowing photos of my great-grandparents on the fridge, and, yes, even the same old arguments, sometimes re-hashed–this has made me who I am today, and it continues to shape my life now.

The story of my family didn’t end with one of those door-slamming arguments. We have not just a past, but a present, and a future together. Since humans are storytelling animals, it’s important to see ourselves embedded in a larger narrative than just that of the individual self.


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