Children of Divorce Aren’t “Resilient”; They Just Suffer in Secret
“I want children of divorce (and the innocent abandoned spouses out there) to know they are not alone. I want those considering divorce to think again and turn around.”
Catholic author Leila Miller has released a new book on divorce, Primal Loss: the Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak. It is her second book—the first was Raising Chaste Catholic Men: Practical Advice, Mom to Mom, released in 2016—and has also garnered endorsements from many Catholic leaders.
She is a 50-year-old mother of eight, with children age 7 to 25, with five grandchildren. She recently spoke about her new book.
First off, you were raised Catholic, left the Church, but returned.
Yes. I was raised Catholic, and we never missed Mass on Sundays or any Holy Days. But I was poorly catechized (that is typical of my entire generation, sadly!), and eventually fell into serious sin as well as becoming a lapsed Catholic--while still believing myself "devout"!
I graduated from Boston College with a BA in English, and then I worked in direct marketing until my husband Dean and I had our first child. After three kids, we were “done” (my husband was Jewish and I was a lapsed Catholic) so Dean was ready to have a vasectomy. Ultimately, my reversion and his conversion happened around the same time, and he never went through with it. Dean was baptized, confirmed and received his First Holy Communion on my 30th birthday, Easter Vigil 1997—and I was his RCIA teacher by that time! We never looked back and have added five more children to our family since that time.
My reversion came about because of my desire to find a firm foundation in a crazy culture, since I was raising small children. My local Catholic parish was so watered-down, and what I would have called “liberal,” that I was drawn to my friend’s Bible church where the preaching and teaching of Christ and the moral law were strong and unapologetic.
When I mentioned carefully to my mom one night that I would probably be leaving the Catholic Church for Protestantism, she (a convert) advised me carefully to “find out what you are leaving before you leave it” and later followed up by handing me Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism. I had never seen Catholic apologetics before, and it changed my life.
(Read the entire story of Leila’s “reversion” here: http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/11/this-is-my-story-it-might-be-your-story.html. Her story is also featured in Patrick Madrid’s Surprised by Life: 10 Converts Explain How Catholic Teachings on Life Led Them to the Church.)
Why did you choose to write a book on divorce?
Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak is not a book I had ever planned to write. My first book, Raising Chaste Catholic Men, was more up my alley, and more along the lines of what I had been teaching and writing about for many years, and so I planned a book on Catholic dating and marriage next. God had other plans for me, and how.
Over the course of the last few years, one of my best girlfriends, Alishia, had begun to say things, only occasionally, about what she is still having to deal with as a grown married woman, even decades after her parents’ divorce when she was a child. I was intrigued, as I am not a child of divorce, and divorce had not significantly touched my life. After a year or so, I told Alishia that she needed to write a book about this. She never did. Meanwhile, I thought I would ask more folks about their experiences, to see if her situation was an anomaly. I put some questions out on my Facebook page (I do a lot of teaching and discussion on the page, so there is a large pool of people who are “Facebook friends”). From the feedback, I decided to throw together a questionnaire off the top of my head, with the idea of perhaps whipping together an e-book of their responses, for the purposes of “awareness.” After all, if I had never really known the suffering of the children of divorce until now, maybe others hadn't either.
So, I put out a request for adult children of divorce to answer questions. In two days, I had almost a hundred volunteers, most of whom wanted to remain anonymous. Some were never able to complete the questionnaire because it got too emotional for them to dredge up those memories and even current sufferings, but I ended up with 70 participants. The answers blew me away. I just had no idea about all the hidden pain out there.
What were some of the common things your 70 participants expressed?
What continues to astound me is how similar are the feelings and effects of the children of divorce, no matter if the respondent was young or old, male or female, from an abusive situation or a “good divorce,” etc. The pain and complications still exist, pain and complications that adults from intact families will never have to navigate. I had no idea how simple life is for someone like me, who never had to reconcile two (or more) worlds that even the adults in their lives could not navigate.
One other astounding thing for which I was not prepared: The silencing of the voices of these children. I have been horrified to realize that many people do not believe that a book like this should be published at all. It’s as if, just like in childhood, the children of divorce must go along with the adults’ wants and feelings, and the kids need to go along with the “narrative” given—that the divorce was a good thing, that the family and the children are better off after divorce. Of course, the mountain of social science on this issue shows quite the opposite, but there you have it: decades of silence follows.
There are countless folks in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s who still cannot speak the truth, out of fear of hurting their parents, or getting attacked for speaking. And since I’ve published the book, I have seen those attacks happen. I suppose I wouldn’t speak either if I were them! After all, they have already learned that conflict can lead to permanent separation, and so they remain quiet. But oh, the turmoil and effects that still exist in their lives! And even to the next generation. What I heard in the questionnaires, and what has been confirmed to me so much since then, is that the negative effects of the divorce never end, even when they were supposed to end years and years ago. For some, the years just after the divorce were peaceful and good, but with the child’s marriage or having one’s own kids, the impact of the divorce hits like a two-by-four, often out of nowhere.
Thankfully, I include a final chapter on “Hope”! It has examples of redemption, of overcoming the hardships of even the most difficult marriages.
What impact do you hope this book will have?
I hope and pray that the people who read this book will never again be complacent about no-fault divorce, about our acceptance of divorce as “necessary” when a spouse is just not “happy,” and I hope the myths that “children are resilient” and “children are happy when their parents are happy” die a much-needed death.
I want priests and counselors and therapists to read this book and stop routinely counseling for divorce (yes, it happens a lot!). I want children of divorce (and the innocent abandoned spouses out there) to know they are not alone. I want those considering divorce to think again and turn around.