Put on your own oxygen mask first

Divorce Family Marriage Parenting

A while ago, we had a medium-sized crisis involving one of our kids. One of the first thoughts that raced across my mind was “Just when I finally thought I had my act together — now this!!” Then I immediately caught myself. Would I rather it happen while I’m drowning in three other crises? Or when I feel like I’m in a position to let everything else slide for a bit while I focus on my child’s problem?

Meanwhile, my husband jumped up to the plate as well, and we both found solace and emotional replenishment in each other’s arms while dealing with the problem.

This incident came to mind when I read the following comment:

Excuses like the kids would want me to be happy that adults use to justify their divorce (news flash your kids dont give a damn if youre happy. Kind of like how you dont give a damn what they think about the divorce. Funny how that works).

Sure, most kids (being, by definition, immature) don’t consciously care much about other people’s happiness. But having the emotional and physical energy to deal with crises (as well as with day-to-day parenting) is not something you can fake or simply conjure up by force of will. It’s the parents’ responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for their kids, and it’s the adults’ responsibility to figure out what they need to do to create that environment. It is the couple that knows whether their marriage is a source of comfort and solace or whether it is a source of additional stress, hindering the parents’ efforts to focus on their kids’ needs.

When people say that no-fault divorce is destroying the family, I take issue with that personally — because if it weren’t for no-fault divorce, I probably wouldn’t have the happy family that I have today. I remember thinking that if the point of restricting divorce is for the sake of the kids, I shouldn’t have even had the six-month waiting period for my no-fault divorce. If a childless couple has already decided to call it quits, the last thing you want to do is insist on giving them another opportunity to bring a child into this picture. Of course, even for couples with kids, if they’ve decided to split amicably, it’s not necessarily in the kids’ interest to insist on turning it into a fight.

Now, I know that the defenders of traditional marriage will say that the point is that if they create more obstacles to divorce, maybe the couple will choose not to divorce. Because that’s what a stress family needs: more obstacles. (Aside: A historian studying Victorian-era illegitimacy told me that there was a high rate of cohabitation and illegitimacy due to one or both partners being unable to obtain a divorce from an earlier union.)

Studies on kids’ “outcomes” have shown that kids whose parents stayed married do better than kids whose parents are divorced. But if these studies are used to tell people that they need to stay together “for the kids” (and they are used for that, consistently), then the fact that some of families in the “married” category actually didn’t even want to split up is a major factor that should not be glossed over. The only relevant studies are the ones that specifically compare outcomes of families where the parents wanted a divorce (but decided to stay together for the kids) to the outcomes of families where the parents divorced and cooperated in child rearing. And, to be credible, such studies should be free of major funding conflicts of interest.

Sometimes I get the impression that people who want to “defend” (heterosexual-only) marriage don’t really think very highly of marriage, even straight marriage (see this recent critique of straight marriages where the spouses are in love with each other). Personally, I think marriage is a commitment rather than a prison, and — even though it represents some amount of work — on balance it is a comfort and joy rather than a punishment.

377 thoughts on “Put on your own oxygen mask first

  1. I already told Julie I would stop responding.

    But I’ll break that promise (sorry) just long enough to say thank you to muucavwon for your sincere advice. I will think it over and try to self-reflect on how this thread went and what I should have done better.

    Other than that, I’m done this time. Seriously.

  2. For the sake on my cranky brain, my spinal surgery recuperation, my hips well at me when i use them, and the reduced brain power that spasms is a syncopated rhythm combinations every time a new comment that says the same thing as at least 20+ posts that said the same thing, albeit with more or less words in different posts.

    Please everyone who still cares passionately about this thread, if I send you a ream of paper, envelopes and stamps, could you use them and talk about it that way?

    Julia, If there are people who still want to participate in this conversation, it’s not your place to tell them to stop, just because you don’t like what that does to your inbox. If it troubles you to follow this post, do your “cranky brain” and everyone else a favor, and UNSUBSCRIBE FROM IT.

  3. I just came across a personal history blog entry that I’d like to add to this discussion:

    I have three separate sets of LDS friends who are navigating the choppy waters of divorce. No one ever wants this to happen I dont care who is involved or who initiates the process, it sucks. Anyone who tosses platitudes about how divorce is too easy is a fool. While every divorce is different, I guaran-damn-tee you, it wasnt a decision entered into lightly, or on the fly. There is always always always always years of pain and hidden struggle, despite how things may look from the outside.

    […]

    Jeffrey will be eleven in two weeks. He has the most memories of the last few years, and the vocabulary and maturity to express himself- and he does. In the car the other day, we were talking, and Jeffrey wondered aloud at how his friends are feeling. I asked him who he was thinking of, and he rattled off the names of the kids whos parents are divorcing, and added I remember then, when it was new, and it was scary and hard.

    I was quiet, hoping he would add something further. I find if I give him room, sometimes he is able to find more he needs to say. How about now? I gently ask.

    He leans his head back on the seat and looks for a bit out the window before turning to me. Now its so much better, mom. Im happy. I wish I could show my friends that. I dont want them to be scared. Things are SO much better.

    I’d like to quote you the entire post, but I’m trying to limit this to fair-use teasers to get you to read the whole thing.

  4. OK, one more — apologies if I’ve quoted too much:

    I know that my children are better off and happier than if I had sacrificed us on the altar of staying together no matter what. I know this. Two miserable people cannot raise happy children who know how to build healthy lives.

    This was the whole point of the OP. Yes, it would be great if nobody ever needed to divorce. But when it happens, it’s not about choosing the parents’ happiness over the kids’ happiness. It’s that some marriages are more of a hindrance than a help to raising children well.

  5. Thanks for the link, Chanson. The comments on the post are worth reading too.

    I am currently watching two divorces unfold; one couple is LDS and one is not. It’s shocking how wrenching the decisions were to arrive at, how much difficulty is involved at every step. On top of all the other issues involved, the LDS couple has 1) over twice as many children as the other couple, 2) a smaller income base to support those kids with, and 3) all this shame and heartache about the failure of a temple marriage that was supposed to last for all eternity and bring the people involved in it joy and perfection along the way.

    It’s the height of cruelty to set people up for such spectacular failure and misery, and then inform them disapprovingly, when they fail so devastatingly and their misery is more than they can bear, that the ultimate problem is their “selfishness.”

  6. I found this article completely fascinating. It’s on the interrelationship of sleep, health, marriage, sex, happiness, and sharing a bed. A bit long, but worth the read. http://www.salon.com/2012/08/14/separate_beds_are_liberating/

    Intriguingly, the move back toward separate beds comes at a time when researchers are finding new links between a womans sleep quality and marital happiness. Wendy Troxel is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. Early in her career, she noticed that subjects who said they were in high-quality marriages tended to be healthier overall. She began wondering what it was, exactly, about marriages on the less happy end of the spectrum that manifested itself in higher rates of cardiovascular disease and other negative outcomes. Studies had offered theories on stress, smoking, family income, and physical activity. But to Troxel, it seemed like the field was overlooking one of the most obvious aspects of daily life between two people in a relationship. Sleep was largely neglected despite the fact that we know its a critically important health behavior, she told me. Even though more than 60 percent of couples sleep with their partner, most studies of marital happiness never considered that it could be a factor.

  7. Very interesting idea.

    I imagine it depends a lot on the particular sleeping patterns of the individuals involved. When I was just visiting my parents in MN for a month, they put us in a room with separate beds — and it was one of those things where it might have been an epiphany of sleeping well, but it wasn’t really. I wasn’t happy with it. I was happy to return to our one common bed in Switzerland.

    But I can understand how that would work better for some people, in the same way I believe my friends who’ve recounted that putting their baby in a room down the hall worked better for them (even though I felt more relaxed having my baby in my bed with me, way back when I had babies). Sleeping patterns (and your mileage) may vary. 😉

  8. Yes, one of the things I found most interesting was the anxiety around what others will think of what works best for you, whether it was worrying that sharing a bed would give kids the idea that their parents had sex, or deciding that you wanted separate rooms would suggest that your marriage is about to end.

  9. found this recent story relevant to the larger discussion here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/10/opinion/coontz-poverty-marriage/index.html?hpt=op_t1

    Getting married and then divorcing often leaves a woman worse off than if she had remained single, with or without children, and had focused on improving her own earning power.

    It is true that single parenthood is associated with poverty, especially in the United States, where single mothers find it hard to work full time or further their education because they lack affordable child care. But nonmarriage is often a result of poverty and economic insecurity rather than a cause. Unemployment, low wages and poverty discourage family formation and erode family stability, making it less likely that individuals will marry in the first place and more likely that their marriages will dissolve….

    Almost 36% of American’s impoverished children — 5.9 million kids — live with married parents. If we include low-income families — people who are just one missed pay check, one illness or one divorce away from poverty — the figure rises to nearly 50%.

    Another claim being recycled in this campaign season– that our social and economic ills come from people depending too much on government–is equally divorced from reality. One of the biggest myths promulgated over the past two decades has been the insistence that government support systems inevitably perpetuate dependency. But history tells a different story.

    From the 1950s to the mid-1970s, the United States greatly increased government support systems for workers, expanding Social Security, enlarging the safety net and investing in school construction and infrastructure that created jobs for blue collar workers while improving housing and educational access for the middle class.

    The result? More Americans were able to work their way into economic security and to invest in education and training that enabled their children to do even better. Over that period, the poverty rate was halved, falling from 22% to 11%.

    It is not the expansion but the erosion of government support and job creation over the past three decades, in combination with the decline of labor unions and employers’ benefits, that largely accounts for the setbacks American families are experiencing and for the decline in social mobility since the 1980s.

    In other words, a way to increase marriage and strengthen it when it happens is to increase the social safety net.

  10. It took me a while to realize that I had as much right to be happy as my former wife and our child. She initiated the separation and I initiated the divorce. I don’t think there is a good way to do either, but in retrospect we handled both decisions well. We fell out of love but still had respect for each other. That has served our son and ourselves well. Thank you for a very well reasoned post.

  11. My wife is still struggling with some mental trauma from her first marriage/divorce. I really wish that I had met her first, but… It took about a year worth of therapy just to get to the point where she was capable of a serious relationship, let alone marriage. She is still waiting for something bad to happen which will make me leave her like her ex did.

    I think that her divorcing him was the best thing she could have done. The guy was (and still is) a compulsive lier, manipulative, and abusive. The only thing that they had in common was that they were drinking buddies. He tricked her into having sex without protection, by claiming that he had taken a shot (much like women can get) which made his body stop producing sperm, which resulted in her first pregnancy. The pregnancy resulted in basically a shotgun wedding. Then, he was shocked that when her son was born, she withdrew from her college party girl lifestyle, and went back to being a good Mormon girl. That was the beginning of 8 years of lies, deception, and pain, before he left.

    I believe that getting the divorce was the best thing that she could have done. Not just because she ended up being my wife, but I don’t believe that environment is good for anyone (and I’m a big proponent of marriage).

    I truly believe that everyone that is involved is better off. Although the ex is still trying to make her life miserable.

  12. @362 Exactly. I’m a big proponent of marriage too because I see it as a source not only of joy, but of comfort, strength, solace, and rejuvenation. If you treat marriage like “you’ve made your bed, now you’ve got to lie in it” — eg. as a punishment, if you chose wrong — then you are doing it wrong and have no business giving other people marriage advice.

    There are times when divorce is the best option for all involved, including the children, if any. Not always, but in a non-trivial number of cases. And in such cases, divorce isn’t the “selfish” choice, it’s the responsible choice.

  13. Here’s another testimonial of the point I was making in the OP:

    “The conflict and struggle inherent in denying such an integral part of one’s self can’t not affect his ability to be a kind and loving father and husband. You’ve seen evidence of that when “R.J.” takes over. R.J. isn’t his gay side—it’s his conflicted, self-denying side; it’s a symptom of the emotional scarring that such conflict and self-denial causes.”

  14. Just noticed, in looking up my comment @34, that all previous formatting for blockquoting is gone. Can we somehow get that back? It renders this conversation (and a great many others) basically unintelligible.

  15. OK, this has been on my to-do list for a while — figure out what happened to the blockquotes.

    As far as I can tell, the stylesheet says that blockquotes in comments should be formatted just like the blockquotes in the main post. Yet the formatting in the comments is not working for some reason. Does anyone here know something about WordPress styles and themes, and have an idea of what the problem might be…?

  16. OK, it’s a bit of a hack, but I think I fixed it. I also added a new tag <superquote/> which is the same as blockquote except that the background will be

    bright red!!

    Now I just have to fix all of those stupid quotation marks that don’t display correctly…

  17. Now I just have to fix all of those stupid quotation marks that don’t display correctly…

    Yeah, those are super annoying, but at least you can still make sense of a thread even with the weird little symbol that has replaced the quotes.

    Anyway, thanks for addressing the blockquote problem!

  18. And I look forward to finding a use for the

    superquote

    It would have been ideal for certain comments on this thread. 🙂

  19. Any possibility that “superquote” could have the Superman logo superimposed over the red strip? You’ll work on that? Super!

  20. @374 That would be fun — and it might actually even be possible…

    I also now have the general idea of how to fix the wrong-quotation-mark-characters problem. I might have time to do it tomorrow, and hopefully start fixing up the Mormon Alumni Association website.

  21. I would like to save one more article reference on this thread:

    I grew up in one of those red states where young marriage is the norm, and we didn’t call the man you married young your “soul mate.” Our preferred term was “first husband.” There may be something to the idea that your young marriage helps you grow up, but all too often, the beneficiary of the marriage-matured person is the next spouse. It’s a tremendously stressful and expensive system, and it’s no wonder that younger generations prefer to keep those starter relationships a little less legally binding.

    and

    I’m glad young marriage is working out for Shaw, but for the majority of women, dating and cohabitating until they’re more sure is working out just fine. If he’s good enough to marry, he’ll still be around when you’re ready to make that leap.

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