SUDDENLY, everyone seems to be getting divorced. At least that’s how it seems to me. Friends, colleagues, acquaintances all seem to be splitting up.
Marriage as an institution seems to be on the rocks, and in many cases family life appears to be a logistical nightmare as kids zig zag between one home and another on alternate weekends.
Of course, that’s not quite the reality. Some quick research tells me that Australia’s divorce rate is actually at its lowest since “no-fault” divorce was legislated in 1976.
But the statistics also tell me that people are marrying later, often after first living together for some time, and then divorcing when they are older than was previously the case.
In 2013 the average age of marriage for men was 29.9 years and for women was 28.3. The average age for divorce was 44.8 years for men and 42.3 for women. So, maybe, my impression of a divorce avalanche is largely a consequence of my age cohort.
That said it rarely takes me by surprise when I hear of yet another couple separating. In my parents’ day, divorce was much rarer and, if not exactly a scandal, it was still pretty noteworthy. These days it seems to be just one of those things, unfortunate but certainly not the end of the world.
I have always believed that unhappy parents are unlikely to make children happy and when a marriage is in serious trouble, and efforts at saving it are to no avail, then people going their separate ways is probably the best for all concerned.
It’s a long time since I first discussed these issues with our kids. I can’t remember when I first had the “sometimes mummies and daddies need to be apart” talk with my kids, but it was probably when they were in kindergarten.
My children are so used to having friends with more than one family that they sometimes express surprise when they find that one of their friends is actually, like them, living with both parents.
They usually know that this or that friend is only available to come over to play every second weekend because that is the week they spend with their mum or dad.
It’s so commonplace as to be routine, and at least to an outside observer, the children involved mostly seem pretty accepting of their parents’ divorce and cope well, at least when their parents are being mature about it.
Equally, as an observer, it does appear that divorce can become a nightmare for kids when one or another of their parents chooses to play games and put their interests, grievances or ego ahead of the welfare of their children. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that an acrimonious divorce leaves behind a minefield of unexploded ordnance and plenty of walking wounded.
But the experience of far too many friends and acquaintances tells me that children must be the top priority. Of course, deciding what’s best for the kids can be difficult and hotly contested. But, all too often, I’ve observed one or both parents playing dirty and using the kids as emotional pawns in a struggle to extract some form of revenge.
I just don’t get this. Sure, the other half might have done you wrong; sure, you might feel like you deserve more time with the kids or should have more say over what they are doing, but surely what really matters is that kids feel safe, secure, happy and loved.
I know it is easy for me to say, but my strong impression is that as a society we need to put a great deal more emphasis on duty to family and children above self-satisfaction and self-interest.
Not all marriages and relationships last, but families continue even when parents have separated. Children don’t stop being a primary responsibility and there has to be plenty of give and take to ensure that they have the best chances in life possible. They certainly shouldn’t be collateral damage from their parents’ wars.