Divorce harms children

Last Sunday I insisted on the need to set aside political correctness and the fear of offending so as to be clear about the evil of divorce. Unless we learn to speak clearly and objectively of the evils involved we will never get out of the mess we have fashioned for ourselves.

If we recall that the first purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, then we can grasp that the first and most obvious evil is the incalculable harm done to children. Divorce is also a betrayal of the love to which the couple committed themselves on their wedding day. Divorce inevitably contains an element of despair that is not found in a mere ‘separation’, which acknowledges the permanence of the marriage bond.

First, let us consider the harm done to the children. This harm is real and objective, even when the children are little aware of it, even when a variety of circumstances seem to compensate in some way or another.

Every child has a father and mother: that remains true even if modern scientific perversions are capable of reducing the father to being merely a ‘sperm donor’ and the mother to being and ‘egg donor’. The father and mother are the human origin of the child whose genetic inheritance is received from them.

There are all sorts of tragic reasons, beyond human control that result in a child losing their father or mother, or both. Already because of this an orphan is deeply wounded. There can also be such radical failures on the part of the father or mother that do indeed require outside intervention that will sometimes lead to the child having to be removed from the home. That too leaves a deep wound in the child; even the best adoptive parents or the best foster parents really cannot substitute for what the father and mother should have been. Here, though, we are speaking about the physical and even moral tragedies that have always been part of the human condition.

It is something altogether different when a child is deprived of either father or mother by a definite human choice, especially when it is the choice of either or both of the parents. If a child who loses his father to an accidental death often feels that his father abandoned him, then how can he not, on some level, feel that his divorced parents (or one of them at least) actually hate him.

The whole of healthy human psychology is founded on human origins: the father and mother. Their division leaves the child divided within himself; their hatred leaves the child struggling with self-hatred. All sorts of other circumstances can mask over the wound, but I would dare say it is always there.

Further, all this is exacerbated by social, cultural, and legal structures that encourage divorce and so leave the child abandoned not only by his parents, but by the whole of the society to which he is born.

Of course, God can heal and transform all wounds, but that doesn’t mean we should intentionally inflict wounds so that God can heal them.

Be that as it may, we have become a society that on the one hand idolizes children and on the other hand abandons them. The idolization seems to be a sort of guilty ‘compensation’ for the abandonment. We tell children how great they are, how deserving they are, and we shower them with gifts, but we deprive them of the one thing they most need – and deep down most want – a father and mother who are married to each other and who love each other.

I have heard the heart wrenching scream of a child, “Why did you have to get divorced!” I have heard a child of divorce give an eloquent talk that boiled down to, “You have to look out for yourself in life, because no one else will.” That is what divorce teaches children; that is what the whole divorce culture teaches children. (To be continued)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.