When Divorce Helps Kids

September 04, 1994|By JO BREMER

Susan Reimer's Aug. 30 column set out reasons why parents should stay married, saying that a child of divorce will "forever regret not having had an intact family" and that such children have little if any hope of "turning out OK."

I completely disagree. My parents' divorce saved my life.

My parents had stayed together many years "for the sake of the kids." I can scarcely recall a time when my childhood home was a happy home. The warm unit Ms. Reimer paints was never seen in our household.

She says that children of divorce are more often depressed, troubled, drifting and underachieving. Is that necessarily because of the divorce, or could that be because of the example that was shown to them in the months or years before their parents decided to toss in the towel?

I don't know when the love went out of my parents' marriage. I know that my father constantly belittled my mother, belittled us kids.

After the fights, my mother would be asked by family and friends why she didn't leave my father. But she was economically dependent on him. How could she support four children?

So, as a child, I learned that respect was something commanded, not earned. I learned that "love" meant putting up with verbal abuse. I learned that it was OK for a man to subjugate a woman.

I learned how to pretend that my life was wonderful when my world was an uncertain and scary place.

I learned to cry without making a sound.

For years, my father decided what the daily atmosphere in the household would be. If he was having a good day, our friends would be welcomed, our accomplishments praised. But on the more-common bad days, our friends would be insulted, our work never good enough. We excelled scholastically, only because we were afraid to do otherwise.

I lived for 12 years in fear, longing for a life that I could only see on television. A happy home where Mom and Dad cared about each other and their children. In the 1960s and early '70s, divorce was still uncommon, especially among Catholics. So I didn't think there was any hope that my life would change, no matter how hard I might wish it.

Yes, my parents stayed together, "for the sake of the kids." They gave us the "blessing" of an intact home. My father taught us that the way to solve problems was with biting words and power plays.

When I was 12, though, my life changed.

It got worse.

My father, fighting inner demons, began to abuse me sexually. I became a partner in keeping the home intact, a conspirator in silence. For two years, I sacrificed myself for the "good" of the family.

When I decided that my life was worth fighting for, I turned in my father, and he was jailed for abusing me. Abuse that wouldn't have happened, I believe, if my parents had divorced when they realized their marriage was beyond hope. As it was, they divorced when I was 14 years old. It was only then that I could begin to live.

Yes, it was economically difficult for my mother and the four of us. But we children were able to see my mother get stronger through her hard work and the adversity. She showed us the joys of earning respect, of facing troubles head-on and scratching out a better life. Each of us put ourself through college, unaided financially by my mother but strengthened by the person she now was.

My father? He died a lonely, angry, unhappy man.

The message to stick together for the sake of the children is a far greater danger to children than divorce. As Ms. Reimer said, boredom and restlessness and petty bickering can be resolved without divorce, and every effort should be made to do so.

But there are other instances where the very life of a child hangs in the balance. Economics should not come before the mental well-being of a child.

Ms. Reimer is right when she says that life is "different" after parents divorce. Sometimes, thank God, it is so much better.

Jo Bremer is a copy editor for The Sun.

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