Divorce, Catholic Divorce and Following Christ as Counter-Cultural Living

MW3 My Parents Divorce and Video Ga zpsc1fc7a1c

Divorce is one of the plagues of modern America. It is the root cause of much of the misery of our modern life. The damage it does to our children and their children and their children’s children is incalculable. It is almost as if we have visited a social plague of Biblical proportions on ourselves with our disregard for marriage, home and family.

And we do disregard these things.

Social policy, especially as it pertains to how business activities are regulated, do not ever seem to consider the good the family. If you want to see what people really care about, look at what they serve. Judged by that standard, American government — and the American people as well — consistently put the Almighty dollar ahead of families, including, or perhaps most especially, children.

Divorce is a cause and a symptom of these values, as well as a result of them. In this way, we have created a divorce cycle that feeds on itself and appears to be endangering the survival of the institution of Holy Matrimony in the larger society. If we are heading toward a society where only certain groups of people maintain stable homes and families, there is no better place for one of those groups to form than among faithful Catholics.

It appears that the foundation for this sort of thing may already be in place.

According to a recent study by the Applied Research Apostolate at Georgetown University, Catholics divorce. In fact, Catholics divorce a lot. But compared to those other guys and gals out there, Catholics don’t divorce so much.

I suppose it’s a relief to learn that we’re not as prone as non-Catholics to steer our marriages — and our lives and our children’s lives — onto the rocks. In fact, I know it’s good news. The study shows that 28% of Catholics have been divorced at some time in their lives. I am assuming that this includes people who converted to Catholicism after they were divorced. If that’s true, the numbers for cradle Catholics might be even lower. Catholics who are married to other Catholics divorce at the slightly lower rate of 27%, so there may be something to that notion.

Protestants divorce at a rate of 39%, other faiths at 35% and people of no faith at 40%.

What this means is that, while we’re far from the point where we need to pop open the champagne and begin congratulating ourselves, we have a basis of solid Catholic families on which to build. Our ultimate goal should be the conversion of the larger society. But for now, I think it’s more than enough for us to look to ways to strengthen and build strong Catholic families which can raise children who will grow into productive and faithful adults.

I’ll talk about this more later, but we’re going to have to face the reality that our society is inimical to us and our values. If we want to live the true good life of stable homes that produce children who grow into equally stable adults, we face the necessity — not the choice, but the necessity — of pulling our families and our kids out of the cesspools of modern life.

We can no longer rely on the larger culture to be a safe place for our kids. And we certainly cannot rely on the larger culture to teach either us or them about what matters in life. Following Christ has always been counter-cultural. It was a scandal to the larger society from its beginning. In a very real way, we simply need to go back to our New Testament Gospel roots and live out our faith as the countercultural force it is and always has been.

From Catholic News Agency:

.- Recent studies on marriage show that while their rates of divorce are significant, U.S. Catholics are less likely to divorce than people of other religious affiliations.

“Although the Catholic ‘divorce rate’ is lower than the U.S. average it is still a daunting figure,” said the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

In a Sept. 26 blog post, the research group explained that divorce among Catholics “represents more than 11 million individuals,” many of whom “are likely in need of more outreach and ongoing ministry from the Church.”

In its article, the organization explained that different ways of tallying divorce and marriage rates create a range of different divorce figures, including the oft-quoted statistic that “half of all marriages fail.”

Looking at national surveys, “Catholics stand out with only 28 percent of the ever-married having divorced at some point,” the blog post stated, compared to more than 40 percent of those with no religious affiliation, 39 percent of Protestants and 35 percent of those of another religious faith.

Furthermore, Catholics who marry other Catholics are also less likely to divorce than Catholics married to people of other faiths.

A 2007 survey from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate estimates that only 27 percent of Catholics married to other Catholics have ever experienced divorce, compared to nearly half of Catholics married to Protestants or to spouses with no religious belief.

Lent: Repentance, Divorce and Your Children

Lent begins this Wednesday.

It’s difficult in our over-scheduled world to reflect. On anything. It is doubly difficult to reflect on something as unpleasant as our own sins.

However, unless the statistics and the evening news are entirely bogus, we have a lot to repent of this Lent, a lot to change.

Most of us, me included, tend to focus on the entirely personal nature of our sins that pertains only to us. We don’t often consider how our personal sins affect others. We almost never think about  how our personal behavior either contributes to the common good or diminishes it.

We’ve had quite a few discussions on Public Catholic about marriage and family. A lot of this discussing has focused on the question of whether or not our society should change the legal definition of marriage. The question is, should we redefine marriage  to something that does not focus on marriage’s institutional purpose of creating, nurturing and equipping future generations of people to become stable and productive adults?

I think the primary reason we have come to the point where we can seriously consider such a thing is that we have become a divorce culture. Divorce and our easy acceptance of it as a solution for almost any spousal grivance has destroyed marriage as a nest for many millions of our young people. So, destroying it absolutely through a redefinition of the law just seems like the next step for many people. We’ve abused marriage so much that we’ve forgotten what marriage is.

One of the questions I’d like all of us to ponder during this Lent is how we treat our own families. In this post, I’m going to focus on divorced parents.

Divorce does not end your obligation as a parent. It complicates it and makes it more difficult to live out, but it certainly does not end it. Your children are still your children.

I see a lot of finger-pointing between divorced spouses. He claims that she won’t let him see the kids. She tells stories of fathers who make dates to see the children who wait eagerly by the door for hours for their Daddy who never shows up. Some divorced spouses move hundreds of miles away from their children and then only see them once or twice a year.

This is going to make a lot of people angry, but I’m going to say it. If you are only seeing your kids once or twice a year, you are not functioning as a parent in their lives. You are functioning, at best, as a kindly uncle or aunt.

Parents are there. Parents put their children first, ahead of their anger and resentment toward their former spouses, and yes, their careers and their new spouses.

I know all the stories about jobs and second marriages and all the other “necessary” reasons people move far away from their children. But, to be honest, I don’t buy it. Your children should come first. I once knew a divorced dad from England who had followed his divorced wife to Oklahoma so he could be near his kids. That’s a father.

The mother who moved her children so far away from their father on the other hand … not so much. I don’t think divorced dads should move away from their kids. I also don’t think divorced moms should move the kids away from their father.

I can hear the anger now over that statement. After all, isn’t divorce about starting over?

In truth, I don’t know what divorce is. I do know what being a parent is. Among other things, being a parent means you put your kids’ needs ahead of your own. So, no, divorce is not about “starting over” and having a “new life.” You are a parent first, foremost and for life. There are no excuses for forgetting that.

If you have kids, you need to put them ahead of yourself. You need to do what it takes to be their mother or father. Your career, your desire to remarry, your “needs” are all second to that.

Too often, divorced parents use the children to punish their former spouses. Also too often, they remarry and put their new spouses and their new children ahead of their “old” kids. After all, babies are always cuter, cuddlier and simpler than your older children with their knobby knees, braces on their teeth and the emotional damage you’ve done to them with your custody fights, attacks on their mother or father and indifference to their needs.

It must seem to children of divorce like their parents stop loving them. Unfortunately, in far too many instances, this is not entirely an illusion.

Divorce is a wrecking ball we take to our lives. It is a ripping apart of that “one flesh” that marriage is. It violates the trust of family, destroys the peace and safety of home.

Divorce hurts people to the core. It inflicts wounds on them that will not heal.

Whatever harm divorce does to the adults who commit it can be raised by powers of ten for their children. Divorce wounds adults. It maims children.

I know there are many experts who will tell you that this is not true. But look at the generations of young people we are producing. They appear to be increasingly unable to form families and nurture their own young. That is a profound, civilization-destroying failure of child-rearng and family that rests on the heads of their parents.

It speaks directly to our excesses and abuses of our marriages and children. Unfortunately, we are not getting the message. Instead of repenting of our societal excesses that have led to this destruction of our homes and families, we are attempting to complete the process by redefining marriage as a social contract in which fidelity, children and stability play no part.

We want to base our understanding of marriage on things like job benefits and inheritance laws (all of which can be changed without touching marriage) rather than its essential function as a cradle for creating and raising our children. It is as if we have fallen in love with our own cultural/societal suicide.

Lent begins Wednesday. Lent is a time when we are supposed to examine our lives, repent of our sins and do penance for those sins. I’m going to suggest that you take a look at how you treat your family. For this post, I am going to focus specifically on divorced parents.

Are you doing your best to be a good parent to your children? How high are your children on your list of priorities? Do they rank somewhere below your job, your dating life, your grief/bitterness/rage over the divorce and your desire to “put it behind me” and get on with a new life?

Do you even care about what your behavior does to them? Are you concerned about the fact that you are shaping people? Have you forgotten that they are your own flesh and blood?

For today, I want to ask divorced parents to consider examining their own lives and how they can do a better job of overcoming the many deficits divorce inflicts on their ability to properly nurture, guide and shelter their children. Think of ways you can be an effective father or mother to the children you have brought into this world. Consider them, and not you.

They are, after all, your children. Nothing else you do in life matters if you don’t take care of them.

The Only Life You Can Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner is the Messy One You’ve Got

We bring the messes we’ve made of our lives to the dinner table on Thanksgiving. That can make this once-a-year family meal into a battlefield or, as more often happens, a sullen duty.

Families marred and disfigured by drugs, violence and too many divorces are incubators for fractured people without  inner peace and contentment. This kind of family robs them of their spiritual and emotional freedom, leaving them trapped in a spider’s web of resentments and anger. They can’t feel joy. They cannot share joyous times with anyone, but especially not each other. That is what the loss of family does to people.

I know people who spend all day Thanksgiving driving from the husband’s mother’s house to the husband’s father’s house, to the wife’s mother’s house, and on to the wife’s father’s house, sitting down to a full-bore Thanksgiving feast at each stop.

They are dutiful and long-suffering in their efforts to make up to their parents what their parents have done to themselves with their divorces and remarriages. Thanksgiving for them is a joyless and exhausting round of overeating and trying to make right what wasn’t their fault in the first place.

Oftentimes, these same frazzled and over-stuffed people are fresh from arguments with their former spouses over when and how to shuffle their children back and forth between them. In some families, the two spouses each have children from prior marriages and maybe one or two they’ve had together to transport around.

It all becomes an endurance march instead of a delight, a dreaded day rather than an anticipated one.

Then there are the unhappy Thanksgiving feasts where relatives who actively hate one another sit through a meal in an atmosphere that buzzes with sullen resentments and long-time grudges. All this is mixed in with the dread of the cousin or stepfather showing up loaded on drugs or stumbling from booze.

The interesting part of all this is how often the people who are leading these miserable lives full of self-inflicted misery blame society, each other and God for the messes they’ve made of the time they’ve been given in this life. The same parents who shuffle their kids on the parent to parent express and live their lives in a bath of resentment and anger will wail and whine “I didn’t raise them this way” when those children hit their teens and turn into mixed-up monsters of sexual promiscuity, rebellion, narcissism and drugs.

Thanksgiving can be a rough day for families full of people with messy lives. The reason is that the enforced family togetherness brings all their disparate chickens flapping home to roost. Everything they numb and blind themselves to all the rest of the year flies up and lands in front of them on Thanksgiving.

For one day, they are faced with the mess they’ve made of their families, the utter lack of a stable home they have provided for either themselves or their children.

We’ve made Thanksgiving tough by the expectations and endless requirements we heap on ourselves.

Let me repeat that: We’ve made Thanksgiving tough by the expectations and endless requirements we heap on ourselves. 

There is no requirement that we spend Thanksgiving shuffling our children and ourselves from broken home to broken home. We do not have to allow the family drunk/drug addict to show up and destroy things. If our relatives beat us when we were kids, we don’t have to see them now.

We can’t undo divorces. We can’t control other people. But, if we’ll stop blaming and whining, we will realize that we have absolute control over ourselves.

We can sit down with our children and our spouses and determine what matters to us on this day. The most important thing, of course, is the children. For some reason, these families who’ve made a mess of things are the first ones to forget that, so let me repeat it: The most important thing is the children.

If you’ve made a mess of your life and theirs with multiple marriages, remember that you owe them as much stability and emotional security as you can salvage from the complications you have inflicted on their young lives.

What is best for them?

Here are a few thoughts, based on my years of raising kids, seeing my friends raise kids and going with those same friends to the police station or the mental ward of the hospital to visit their kids when they were teens.

Why not, instead of dragging your kids from one of your divorced relative’s homes to another, have dinner at your house and tell your relatives they can come if they want, but they have to play nice and behave if they do? If they throw a fit, let them. Your children are more important than their fits.

If your parents haven’t spoken in 30 years and will not be in the same room together, that’s their choice. You first responsibility is to your own children. You can have a nice dinner with each of your parents in turn on some other day. But do not let them indulge their ancient hatreds and ruin Thanksgiving for your own family and your children.

Why not, instead of shuffling children back and forth between your former spouses and you, arrange that one spouse will have them on Christmas day and another will have them on Thanksgiving? Then, when it’s your turn to share the kids, have Thanksgiving or Christmas early for your kids at your house before sending them off.

Never say a word of resentment or spite while you are doing this. Do not whine and complain about how awful it all is for you. Invite the extended family. Do it right. Provide your children with an actual, family Thanksgiving, even if it isn’t on exactly the right day.

Why not, instead of nursing grievances from when you were six or sixteen, grow up and accept that none of this narcissistic self-indulgent picking at old scabs matters anymore? It’s over. Be done with it.

If you come from a background where you were abused (and I mean abuse, not that your big brother had a larger room than you and your folks bought your sister a prettier prom dress than yours) if you come from a background with beatings, sexual abuse or some such, then, stay away from those people. Dump them. Be done with them.

Don’t go near the people who treated you like this. Get therapy and figure out that they are poison and live your life without them. Definitely protect your children from these folks by not letting them near them.

As for the endless list of gotta dos that we inflict on ourselves at the holidays, my advice is to get real. Your house and your meal are not going on a magazine cover. So stop worrying about it.

Thanksgiving is about Thanks Giving. It’s about bringing the bizarreness of our lives to a pause for one day and eating a delicious meal, watching some football, playing a few board games with the people we love.

Some families are able to ease the work by everyone pitching in and bringing a dish. That way no one is overloaded with cooking. If that doesn’t work for your family (it doesn’t for mine) then the person who does the meal calls the shots. Do not wear yourself to a frazzle preparing a meal for the memory book. Prepare a good/great meal and enjoy.

A few other do nots are do not plan on putting up your Christmas decorations after you eat dinner. (Unless, of course, everyone has fun doing this.) Do not use china or table settings that are more precious to you than the people eating from them. Do not expect your relatives to be anybody else than who they are on this day. If your brother-in-law always shows up late, he’ll be late on Thanksgiving. Family is home, and home is a place of the heart where this sort of thing doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t wait dinner for him. But there’s no point getting upset about it, either.

I know I’m going to make some people mad with this post. It almost certainly cuts close to the bone for a lot of people and I’m not being overly sympathetic.

That’s because I’m writing it for the children. I want every parent to make this wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving a gift of real family for them. No matter how complicated your life has become, stop, think and work out ways to provide your children with a nurturing, calm and love-filled day.

It will be a gift to you as well as them, both now and for years to come.

 

 

 


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X