Your parents’ broken marriage isn’t a death sentence for your own

It’s 1992. I’m 19, home from university for Christmas holidays, and the crowded restaurant where I’m having dinner with my family is buzzing with activity. We are engaged in a heated discussion and my mother and I are dominating the conversation. Snippets of scalding sentences float back to my memory with raw honesty and slight regret. Words I wish I’d left unsaid; some pronounced with a fiery arrogance that will never be forgotten.

“My generation will be smarter than yours, we know more, we have more effective and helpful resources, and more importantly, we will be better parents.”

Not surprisingly that sentence was not well received. Somehow in one short semester away from home, amid the heady experience of higher learning in my chosen field of psychology, I had developed an ego the size of Texas and an attitude to go along with it.

My self-discovery and personal opinions were vividly taking shape; I truly believed what I was saying to be rock solid. Forget delivery, tact, and respect. I had checked those at the front door and ignored the knot of caution in the pit of my stomach while my brazen inner punk kid challenged my parents.

Twenty years later I still cringe when I hear that sentence replayed in my mind. It was so easy then to point fingers and predict that my generation would be better at raising children than our parents were. Now I have three children of my own and there are days I can honestly say I’m not doing things much differently than they did, let alone better. Many of my parenting skills are instinctive echoes of my mother’s and father’s — the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are days I catch myself channeling my mother’s go-to disciplinary catch phrases. One part of my brain realizes they’re borderline ridiculous — but nonetheless, they roll off my tongue and pass through my teeth as if I’m caught in some generational tractor beam.

But out-of-date copycat parenting skills and crazy idiosyncrasies are the least of my worries. I have bigger problems. When I was 22 my parents separated and then divorced. According to a wealth of research this puts me at risk in my own marriage. Not surprisingly, children of divorced parents are statistically more hesitant to get married, and of those who do, only 60 per cent stay married — talk about discouraging — as opposed to the 91 per cent from intact marriages. Even worse, research also indicates the issues and fundamental behaviours responsible for the demise of a marriage are passed on to our children. In essence, we inherit brokenness and then pass it on to the next generation.

You see, us kids of divorced parents have difficulty in the marriage department for more reasons than one, and it can be easily justified why our relationships sometimes crumble under the weight of the hurt and pain we carry around. Not to mention that our own conflict resolution skills may be underdeveloped because we’ve rarely seen a good model. But I refuse to become a dreary statistic. Instead, I would like to make sure my own kids are among the more optimistic 91 per cent.

Twenty years ago I may have been a naïve punk kid who made a statement that rocked the boat. Today I still believe it to be true. We are getting smarter, we do have more resources and the capabilities to become better parents — or at the very least more educated ones. But “smarts” will only get us so far. It’s what we do that counts. If we don’t know how to do something, it’s our responsibility to find out, get help, and support one another.

My husband and I have been married for 13 years and we realize we will always be on a quest to build, maintain, and occasionally repair our relationship. That’s just how life is: forever changing, often uncertain, and with no guarantees. But thankfully we don’t have to go it alone.

I believe in a God who loves me more than I could ever imagine and who promises to accompany us in the union He designed for our benefit. He never said it would be easy (quite the contrary actually), and the bulk of the work does rest on our shoulders. But it is possible to change our fate. Our story is still being written. Just because we come from broken families doesn’t mean we can’t have happy, whole relationships.

If anything, we owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to give it the best we’ve got. And every now and then we can still allow our inner punk kid speak up and give us some advice.


Photo (Flickr CC) by TimothyJ

Originally published in Issue 10 of Converge Magazine.