Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Donut Man on Divorce

when my parents divorced when I was 6, the church in Paoli (Pa.) told [my mother] that divorce might be the best thing for her in this situation because she found “true love” with another man and that she had her whole life ahead of her. The church did not fight for the unity of our family. … So we stopped going to church.
Rob's mom got saved through the witness of a friend who told her Jesus could heal her marriage; she was facing a third divorce at the time. Rob was drawn to Christ through the witness of a pastor whose family spoke to Rob in the way they related to each other.

Right in the middle of this conversation, his wife comes up with a plate of cookies and coffee and their two little preschoolers come up to get a big kiss goodnight, and there was joy and peace and order and beauty in that home. I wanted that. They brought Christ to me philosophically and biblically in their lives.
As an adult, Rob's family was in a church that went through a nasty schism.

Because Shelley and I are both children of divorce, when the church fell apart it brought terrific stress to our marriage. We know of a number of couples that then divorced after this meltdown.
Rob and his family have converted to Catholicism, which seems to be a popular trend these days. The article is in National Catholic Register. The "evangelical" movement was most popular at the same time that divorce rates were soaring. For most Protestants, the choice was to attend a church that embraced grace so much that anything was acceptable, or to attend a church that imposed strict and often legalistic standards on its people. Legalism kills the spirit of people and isn't how we're supposed to live in Christ. His harshest criticism was always for the Pharisees, who loved God but who were graceless taskmasters over His people. But neither can we bear to say 'anything goes,' at least not if we're being true and honest with Scripture. The evangelical movement has had a difficult time with this balancing act, and families experiencing divorce have suffered both sides--either too much 'grace,' as the Donut Man describes in the first quote above, or none at all in churches that acted like divorce was the unforgiveable sin. I think this is one of the reasons that we're seeing the pendulum swing back to tradition and ancient ways. Protestants are converting to Catholocism, evangelicals are converting to Anglicanism, and even I find myself in what is probably best described as a reformed Baptist community, where liturgical forms and songs from a century or two ago are the norm. We long for structure, having grown up in a wishy-washy culture that infiltrated the church. Maybe now, we can begin to infiltrate the culture, the way it's really supposed to work.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Better late than never

A final thought from Dr. Meg Meeker's Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.

The most common cause of unhappiness and despair, what crushes the spirit of children more often than anything else, is divorce. Divorce is really the central problem that has created a generation of young adults who are at higher risk for chaotic relationships, sexually transmitted diseases, and confusion about life's purpose. ...Suppose you are already divorced. If that's the case, move forward, and use all the grit you have to reshape and improve your relationship with your daughter. If you haven't been front and center in her life, commit to it now.
Dads, it's really not too late. Your baby girl may be grown with a baby of her own, but she still wants to know that you love her and want to have a relationship with her. I can attest to it personally--my dad began rebuilding a relationship with me in my mid-twenties after eight years of silence. I know others who have similar stories. Swallow your pride and your fear, pick up the phone, and call her. She's waiting.

Dad's new wife

More from Meg Meeker's Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. Dr. Meeker offers advice for fathers who remarry, either after a divorce or after being widowed. First, she says, tread carefully, recognizing that a single dad is his daughter's only lifeline and must be his priority until she's old enough to care for herself. Second, she says, give your daughter time to grieve.

Grieving for the loss of her mother is a very healthy and important process for a daughter. Simply telling your fourteen-year-old to buck up and get on with life four months after her mother is gone is cruel--and it won't help... One of the biggest problems girls encounter after a mother dies or leaves the family is ungrieved loss.
Third, expect your child to act like a child and your new wife to act like an adult.

Ask more from your new wife than from your daugher. Your new wife should be able to handle it (and if she can't, find that out before you marry her, because it's a warning sign). ...if your girlfriend can't be comfortable talking about and accepting your first wife as the mother of your daughter, you should end the relationship. If you don't, it could tear your family apart.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

More from Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters

The simple presence of a father, whether biological or step, makes a difference in whether kids feel loved.

A nationwide survey by the National Commission on Children found that when asked whether their parents "really cared" about them, 97 percent of kids between the ages of ten and seventeen from intact families believed their fathers really cared. For children in stepfamilies, 71 percent said their fathers really cared. In single-parent families, the number was 55 percent.

Between two homes alone

It was cute when Macauley Culkin's movie parents managed to forget him--twice. After all, what parent could imagine actually forgetting a kid, even with a passel to keep track of? But this season, we get a bite of realism, apparently. Unacommpanied Minors, this year's kid comedy, strands a bunch of unrelated kids in a snow bound airport, kids whose only connection is that they're all from divorced families or similar situations that force them to travel alone during the holidays. I haven't seen this yet, but a review in the New York Sun recounts a precocious line one of the children uses when a grown-up remarks on the kids' antics: "Divorce kids are more resourceful," he says. How adorable.

Maybe I'm losing my sense of humor, but this scenario seems a little too real to actually be funny. Do you know anyone whose parents traveled somewhere for Christmas and actually forgot a kid at home? I'm guessing not. The unlikelihood of that situation was part of what made Home Alone something we could laugh at. But chances are, if you're a child of divorce, you've made a trip or two (or thirty) by yourself; if not, you know someone who did. I jokingly call O'Hare Airport my second home because I've flown through there (and occasionally, other hubs) alone since I was 7. The first time my mom put me on a plane by myself, she cried the whole way home, afraid I would get lost and end up in South America or someplace crazy. My first time going to LAX, I got stuck for an hour or more at some sub-terminal while my dad (in the days before cell phones) fought traffic and I worried that perhaps he really had forgotten me. Mostly the trips were uneventful and promised a plastic airline pin, a baggie of crayons, and a nice stewardess or pilot to walk me between gates. Yes, the experience (multiplied by the number of times I did it) gave me confidence and a reliable sense of navigation in airports. But, sorry Hollywood, it didn't make me a good target audience for a fun-filled family film about kids traveling alone getting stranded and having to rely on themselves to get out of a jam. Try again.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Daddy's girl

Thanks for all the great conversation about funerals and divorce--two horribly morbid topics, but obviously things a number of us have thought about.

I just finished reading a terrific book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, by Dr. Meg Meeker. If you're a dad with young daughters, go get this book; if you know a dad with young daughters, give him this book for Christmas. Dr. Meeker combines solid research and years of experience as a pediatrician to help dads see how important they are in the daughters' lives and how their influence can help their daughters succeed. Over the next week or so, I'm going to share some of my favorite quotes from the book with you. Here's the first, on how a dad in a bad marriage can be his little girl's hero.

It's important for every good father to know the impact of divorce on his daughter. Only then can you help her.

Volumes of research on daughters and sons consistently reveal that divorce hurts kids. That's just the way it is.

Your daughter expects parents to stay married. Heroes, in her mind, keep fighting. In reality, though, sometimes you can't. If mom leaves, has an affair, or abandons the family through drinking, your fight is limited.

But whenever, for your daughter's sake, you can fight, you must. How you fight, how you persevere, how you manifest your courage will always influence your daughter. Sometimes perseverance for your daughter's sake means sticking with her crazy mother. Maybe it means sacrificing your own happiness for hers. This is what heroes do. It is what your daughter expects. Making the heroic choice at work, in marriage, and throughout your life will shape your daughter, who she is and what she becomes.