Divorce affects multiple generations–and even affects your relationship with grandchildren.
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here’s this week’s on trickle down divorce.
For most families, last weekend was a rush of chocolate, church, and Grandma’s cooking. For many of us, though, holidays are made more difficult by extended family, and I’m not talking about those of us who have to sit through Uncle Joe’s flatulence at the table. No, I mean the difficulty in choosing whose table to sit at in the first place.
I come from a generation affected by divorce, but it is not necessarily our own divorces that predominate. It is more likely the divorces of our parents. Marriages that occur today are actually less likely to fall apart than marriages from a few decades ago, because our divorce rate is going down (though our marriage rate is similarly falling).
But the ramifications of those Baby Boomer divorces are now trickling down to the generations that have followed.
When you feel alone, angry, and bitter in your marriage it is easy to think that dissolving that marriage will end those feelings (though research doesn’t show that divorce brings increased happiness). That marriage relationship, though, is not the only relationship at stake. There’s also the parent relationship. And the grandparent relationship.
By divorcing, you virtually guarantee that you will see your children less than you do now.
We usually come to terms with that before we decide to split. What we sometimes forget, though, is that those children eventually grow up and have families of their own. And divorced people will see less of their grandchildren than grandparents who stay together.
It’s not hard to see why. Take a commenter on my blog who was describing her Easter trials. She and her husband both have divorced parents. Her parents don’t speak to one another. All four sets of parents demand equal time. How do you then negotiate the holidays? In this family’s case, you simply cocoon at home and stop seeing everyone. And now she mourns that her kids don’t really have grandparents they can look up to.
If you’re divorced and you maintain a great relationship with your ex, you can avoid many of these problems simply by not being petty.
But here’s the kicker: even if you have an ideal relationship with your ex, you still will see your grandchildren less, because your children do not have unlimited time.
They only have so many holidays in the year, and it’s hard to split those up between so many different households.
My own children have one set of divorced grandparents (my own parents) and one set of married grandparents. They have an amazing relationship with my mother and my in-laws, but they have virtually no relationship with my father, because I don’t see him very much. I haven’t lived with him since I was two. I sometimes wonder if he realized, when he left all those years ago, that he was saying good-bye not just to his wife but also to his daughter and any future grandchildren. I wonder if that thought would have made him reconsider.
So many of my generation are just sick of it: sick of their parents’ fighting over who sits where at the wedding; sick of their parents’ complaining about each other; sick of the constant pull to visit too many houses. And so they give up, create their own lives for themselves, and leave their parents behind.
Keep that as a cautionary tale.
When we are in the midst of a difficult marriage, getting out can seem like the best route to happiness. But it also puts your life on a very different trajectory. You will never have the same relationship with your children you would have had otherwise. And inevitably, even in a good divorce, you will see your grandchildren far less. So be prepared before you untie that knot.