Yesterday I posted “Divorce Divides Children” from San Antonio, where I was attending a conference. Later that morning I opened the San Antonio Express-News, and found a story typical of the problem the I have been writing about: the divorce culture that thinks divorce is about the adults’ happiness, without even asking about the children.
“An amicable divorce can benefit everyone,” by Express-News staff writer Jeanie Tavitas-Williams, reported on The Unofficial Guide to Getting a Divorce, by Russell and Susan Wild. The paper reports that “with 22 years of marriage behind them, two children, a decent portfolio, property and all kinds of other personal, financial and emotional entanglements, both acknowledge they had ‘all the ingredients that could have made for a ….’” How would you expect that sentence to end? Good marriage? Effective partnership? Secure home? No, to the Wilds, those are the ingredients of a “nasty divorce."
The Wilds did divorce. Yet the tone of the story is congratulatory. The story continues, “Yet today, fewer than two years after their union was legally dissolved, the Pennsylvania residents are good friends. They live about three blocks away from each other, have dinner together (kids included) most every Tuesday, even have keys to each other's homes.” If they had all that going for them, and still do, why did they divorce? Because, Russell Wild says, they “had exhausted all of their efforts to regain the spark before finally ‘throwing in the towel.’"
My gripe is not with the Wilds. To me, it would seem that two people who are capable of such an amicable divorce, are also capable of an amicable marriage. But I don’t know all the facts from a newspaper story, and won’t judge the Wilds.
My gripe is with the reporter, the newspaper, and the dozens of other stories like this one that you can find any month in newspapers, women’s magazines, men’s magazines, and, especially, “relationship” television and radio shows.
No one asked about the children. The reporter does not tell us what the parents think their divorce did to their children. She did not report on the growing body of expert evidence, such as Elizabeth Marquardt’s or Judith Wallerstein’s work, which details the enduring legacy of divorce on children. She did not, evidently, think to ask the children themselves what they thought of this “amicable” relationship.
With other kinds of stories, reporters have a normal routine: first report what the more powerful parties in a conflict are doing, then investigate the effects on the less powerful. If they were reporting, say, a school strike, they would interview the administration, interview the teachers, and then talk to parents and kids, or at least to some sort of experts about the effect on parents and kids. Our current divorce culture, though, treats divorce as something that adults do. The effects on kids are not a normal part of the story, are not in the reporters’ and editors’ standard calculation of affected parties.
So this is my plea: when anyone reports on a divorce, either a particular divorce or on divorce as an institution, always ask “what about the children?” Ask, and tell.