Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Primal Loss by Leila Miller


This book is so necessary.  It's one of those books I think should be required reading for every couple before marrying, it is that profound.  As devastating and heartbreaking as it is to read testimony from adult children of divorce, it is encouraging and inspiring in a way that makes me realize the incredible importance and preciousness of marriage and how it should never be taken for granted. I finished the bulk of this book very early Sunday-and I went to Mass and a couple's 68th anniversary was being celebrated. Yes, 68 years!  Imagine all the good and bad and fun and struggle and heartbreak and hard work and dedication and sickness and health that couple had shared together for 68 years.

I am not a child of divorce, nor is the author Leila Miller. I read the author's blog and admire her writing, which is why I bought the book.  She says that writing a book on divorce was never in her radar until she began hearing from friends about their parent's divorce and the impact it had on them not just as children but as adults.  She compiled seventy "testimonies"-she describes her book as people telling stories-adult children of divorce who answered several questions-the effects of the divorce, how you felt as a child vs. adult, how divorce has affected your view of marriage, are children resilient?, what do you want to tell society, etc.  Her "primary concern is giving voice to those who have had none for so long."

She says, "This book then is a chance for everyone else to be "silent", and for the children of divorce to speak freely, without having to be mindful of the grown-ups feelings". 

Two things I can say when I finished this book:

1. I never knew. Yes, I knew divorce was hard for kids and 'bad'.  I know now more as a mom who sees kid's friends tossed between houses, and I know it isn't easy and that it is painful and difficult in so many ways and it often seems like the children are the ones that pay the highest cost. But this book is raw, and real and eye-opening to the immense life-long struggle and pain, even after forgiveness. As many different circumstances there were, there were such shockingly similar testimonies of the emotions of the adults now and as children. Like Leila says in her foreword, I have realized how absolutely blessed my husband and I have been to have parents who have been completely dedicated to each other since day one, and who taught us to be the same, and I completely took that for granted before I read this book.

Here are two powerful quotes, although it's difficult to choose just two because every story to me was profound.

"For parents who think their children will be happy when they are happy:  I went to a counselor as a kid. I don't remember it helping much, but I remember counselors telling my mom that her kids "needed to see her happy." They advised that she should do basically whatever she wanted, because that would make her happy and fulfilled, and that's what mattered most to us kids-not the marriage itself, but for the kids to see their parents "happy and fulfilled."  NO, NO, NO!! That is not developmentally appropriate for children. They don't care one iota how "happy" their parents are! And they should't have to! They are children! The  parents are the ones who should be looking out for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of their children, not the other way around. That counselor's advice was just a justification for my mother to do whatever she pleased, without guilt. It was terrible advice. No, your children do not care about seeing you "fulfilled." They don't even understand that concept. They want you to step up and act like a parent, to problem-solve like an adult, to learn to be humble and sacrificial, and to keep the vows you made on your wedding day."

"Divorce breaks a chain of both future-building and legacies of the past, which the next generation would normally benefit from. When this continuity is broken, the culture itself fragments-and it happens in one or two generations. The betrayal of a divorce pulls the rug of security and commitment out from under children, and they in turn do not believe in commitment nor do they have the tools and example to be successful in a  long-term relationship. The ability to overcome the more destructive elements of human nature is damaged or ruined. "


2. It cements my view that marriage is absolutely precious, not to just the couple, and their children but to society as a whole.
"I want people to find out what true happiness is. I want them to know that keeping their family as a unit is so much more powerful than they know. I want them to understand that if we take all the energy we give "to the world"-whether it be helping others or our own endeavors put that energy toward meeting our husband's basic needs and being more present to our children, we can change the world! Parents, do not underestimate the power you have in influencing your children toward the virtue of commitment. Even if that is all that they learn from your marital struggles, it will be powerful."

"My parents' divorce taught me that we should be saving the majority of our "yeses" for God, each other, and our family. If we pour out too much of ourselves to the outside world, we have nothing left to offer God and our spouse."

I highly recommend the book.  It is a book for everyone-those that experienced divorce firsthand, those that have friends who are struggling in marriage or who are divorcing, those who know children who are victims of divorce, those that counsel, and love and advise, and married couples-it is a simple book but the testimonies are stronger than any psychological analysis or mathematical statistics.

21 comments :

  1. Very interesting- I'll have to look into this one. My parents did a strict 50/50 custody, switching every Friday, and my siblings and I all struggled mightily with it. My heart breaks every time I hear about poor children doing 4/4/3/3 or worse 2/2/3/3 splits because "it's better to have constant contact with both parents". The lack of consistency in their little lives...I have to think the people making these agreements never lived a dual life like that because it is so, so, so hard. Aside from a few hospitizations and a week of summer camp, I have been with my children every night of their lives and I plan on keeping it that way as long as they will let me.

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    1. Hi Karin-I have seen the difficulty of these arrangements in my children's friends. I am not judging the situation or the custody rules as it is always sad to me-I am just shocked sometimes how much the kid's pay the price. I know two busy involved teens who have divorced parents, whose trunk of their car, in junior high and high school, was their closet essentially-lest they forget a uniform or homework or makeup etc at one house-they just chose to keep everything in their overflowing, but organized trunk. When I first saw this I couldn't help but compare this to a homeless person living out of a car. It struck me as terribly terribly sad-it honestly shocked me-as the parents have their separate homes to continue on with their lives, the child is the one who must act untethered to one place and must function as such as they cope throughout their childhood and teen years. This cannot be easy for them, as the teen years are hard enough. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint.

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    2. My grandson has paid a terrible price for this arrangement. His schooling has suffered and he has no sense of permanence, he is just a week-end guest in every home where now there are step children who get to live there all the time.

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    3. Sarah, that is so sad. I started reading on this subject because of the way divorce has touched my relatives and in-laws. And in my reading, I read a book called, "Between Two Worlds" that describes exactly what you say about their closet being a trunk--and home, for children of divorce being basically where their *stuff* was (therefore more about their stuff), instead of a place. :'(

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  2. This is an interesting concept to me... both as an adult "child" of divorce and one who has been married 20 years now (and I feel like we're just getting started. We lived with my mom and went to my dad's every other weekend. As an adult I'm not traumatized. I know that's not the case for everyone. My parents were both careful to never involve us in any negative talk about the other. I DO think marriage is sacred, and for my parents - they never should've gotten married in the first place. Looking back as an adult, I would've divorced my father as well (or never married him). It has broken no connections with my past (both sides of my family remain friends) and has not hindered legacy building in our future. I wouldn't say I'm happy my parents divorced, but I'm not sad - my life would be drastically different for the worse had my parents stayed together.

    I'm not trying to discount these stories, because I know this happens. I have friends myself who've suffered as children and adults, and friends of my boys who are suffering now. But some of us (praise be to God) are okay. xo

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    1. Hi Christi-There are definitely a couple of participants in the book who have a similarity to your story in that they see as adults why the divorce had to happen-but would also say they wish it didn't have to be that way, or that it is difficult as adults to come together as a family and always have to be wary of feelings of offense-or now step families. They praise their mom or dad as having made the best out of a difficult situation-they were the rarity thought. Recognizing that family trees (legacy) get complicated and some participants mentioned this when dealing with their own children-and how they wish that wasn't so or had resentment towards that. I'm glad that is not the case for you and you recognize that. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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    2. Thank you! Sadly, after making marriage my idol, in which there was physical, emotional and mental abuse, I left. The horrible environment my sons grew up in is something I shall always regret.

      They are, as am I, saddened by not being in an intact family, but they still have contact with all family members and my mother in law is the best.

      Not all marriages work out. Hearing story after story of how one should stay no matter what, made for an unhappy family.

      I cannot change what happened, but I know my sons are glad I am away from the crazy

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    3. Chimakuni, my mom's parents never divorced but often lived separated for years at a time. Their relationship was always rocky, and it made my mom long for a happy marriage. She thought no matter what she would make her she an marriage work. This thinking kept her trapped in an abusive marriage, physical and emotional, for 25 years. She didn't get a divorce from my dad until the school found out about the abuse and my father was arrested.
      The divorce came as a relief to us kids as heartbreaking as it was. For the first time in our lives we didn't have to walk on egg shells. It was like life went from living in black and white to entering the land oz, so colorful and vibrant.

      Not all marriages can be saved.

      Growing up in that awful situation made me really careful in dating. I married one of the kindest, gentlest men out there. We are celebrating 10 years of a very happy marriage despite both coming from families of divorce.
      Your children will never forget that you got out of the abusive situation and will know not to settle for it themselves.
      Hugs to you, Mama!

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  3. I just read an article online about a divorced couple and how they "gave their children the house". So the kids kept living as normal in their house (no moving for the kids) and the mom and dad each had their own apartment and would take turns moving into the house with the kids. Seems a little more stable... I thought it was an interesting idea (if you could afford to do it).
    Thankfully my parents have stayed together through thick and thin and my husband and I are on year #11. Marriage is SO critical, for so many reasons. I'll have to read this book!

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  4. Do you think this would be a good read for someone currently divorcing?

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    1. Yes. Maybe a difficult read, because the pain these adult children feel is very well conveyed, but good in that it would either illicit a change of heart, or they would have more knowledge and awareness of how the children felt and what they wished wouldn't have happened. (Dating afterwards, etc.)

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  5. My parents got divorced when I was a baby and my brother was only 2 1/2. My brother and I were stuck in the middle of a very bitter relationship. My mother never remarried but my father remarried twice. I ask my friends that grew up with parents that are still together how they would feel seeing their parents date, having to go to two Christmases, meeting strangers that become your brothers/sisters (step kids). It's a lot for kids to deal with. Sometimes it's necessary because there are couples that should not be together, but it's rough. My parents didn't handle it well at all and I think that makes a difference as well. The good news for me is that it made me take my own marriage very seriously. I am committed to my husband and kids 1000% So glad something good came out of it.

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  6. I have a book recommendation. I also love to read, and just finished this book last night. It is called 'The Vanishing American Adult' by Ben Sasse. It talks about how our coming of age kids are in a state of perpetual adolescence. How we as parents are failing to teach our children a work ethic and a desire for knowledge. I recommend this book to all parents. It is important that we teach our kids skills necessary to become an independent adult.

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  7. My children tell me they are so glad they were not raised by their dad, they would be crazy if they were. They have diagnosed him as a narcissist. They were shuffled around a lot, staying with grandmothers when my schedule called for nights (I'm a nurse) because he wanted a regular schedule. They didn't live out of their cars but it came close. I should have gotten a different job but we are told over and over "kids are so resilient" and this job paid the best with the best benefits. My parents divorced when I was 23 y/o. On reflection, I don't think I would have had the courage to seek a divorce if they had not done so, divorce was not a part of our family or extended family prior to this. Probably the kids having the house would be the best scenario. Divorce does not solve problems, it creates new more terrible ones.

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    1. Nancy there is a whole question (a chapter) of the book asking the contributors "what do you say to those that say "kids are so resilient". It's very interesting-and heart breaking. Psychologists and therapists are to blame too for this culture of divorce-kids never being asked what they wanted or how they felt about it-many of them didn't want to voice their feelings because they were (and still are) afraid to hurt their parents. I love the last sentence of your comment-I think this book could almost be summed up in that one sentence. Thank you for being so honest.

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  8. Thank you for recommending this book. It is so important that these voices get heard. So many of us are not allowed to speak openly. The voices in this book are telling it like it is.

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  9. My husband's parents did not divorce until he went off to college. Both he and his brother say they wished they would have divorced earlier because it was such a miserable home-so much yelling, there was infidelity, a lot of unhappiness. His mother says she couldn't bear to have her kids raised in a broken home. But frankly-even though they were "together" it was a broken home. My parents have been happily married for almost 52 years-and my husband and I happily married for 21. I understand what you're saying-and I would never want to have my children to experience this. But I think it's a little too black and white to assume it's always for the worst. It sounds like the author is using "testimonies" and not actual studies--not exactly a scientific way of exploring the issue. I'm sure you could find 70 families where it was for the best.

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    1. Sorry, I don't know if I put my comment in the right spot because I'm working off my phone, but my other comment was meant to be in response to "hbloren."

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  10. There are few areas of social science that are as voluminous and conclusive as this sad topic. I include many of those studies in the appendix. My point in producing this book was not technical "research," as I am not a scholar. But I have been told by a therapist that what I did is called "qualitative research." Regardless, it's important that these silenced voices are allowed to speak. I'd be interested to know what your husband thinks after reading it. I think he might be surprised at his own response.

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  11. My parents divorced last year after 38 years of marriage. Their marriage was always a struggle, and so their divorce was not a big shock for us. Still hard, but the overwhelming feeling I have is of gratitude that they stayed together until their kids were grown. I know not every family is better off that way, but I am absolutely sure that we were better off being raised by both of our parents, even though they didn't get along. We had both of our parents (and didn't have to choose between them, which has got to be the hardest thing for a child--which half of you is more important, dear?) and were in a stable home and not shuffled around. That's not the right answer for everyone, I know, but I am grateful that they stuck it out as long as they did to give us a better future than we would have had otherwise.

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  12. Thank you for the recommendation - hard stuff, important stuff!

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