Them Before Us is committed to reorienting conversations about family structure away from adult desires and toward children’s needs.  And when it comes to an unhappy marriage, most of the commentary focuses on the wants of the adults involved with little, if any, consideration of how the children will be impacted.  The obvious result is the now nearly ubiquitous belief that “if the parents are happy, the children are happy”. This falsehood leads many parents to believe that ending their marriage won’t be too bad for the kids.  So when we discover an article that shares the blunt reality of what children endure after a divorce- even one where they still have contact with both parents- we take notice.

Hilary Towers “Shared Parenting” Hurts Many Victims of Marital Abandonment, is one such article and well worth reading in it’s entirety. Towers, a psychologist who works with post-divorce families and children, refutes the notion that “shared parenting” is a boon for kids.

She discusses how no-fault divorce was the shove that made the descent down the slippery slope of “shared parenting” possible.

The fundamental flaw in the current system is the court’s enforcement and ultimately encouragement, over generations, of unilateral, “no-fault” divorce. The partner who does not want a divorce has no recourse under our law, no mechanism of defending what are often years of emotional, financial, physical and psychological investment and sacrifice. An unfaithful spouse can single-handedly—and with the court’s stamp of approval and aid—end a marriage and swiftly “move on” with the adultery partner and half or more of all the family income and assets—pulling the children along with him or her (at least part-time).

She’s right, of course. No-fault divorce often favors the spouse guilty of adultery or abandonment because it gives power to the spouse who least values the marriage.  That’s problematic for kids before and after the separation.  Towers explains, “My observation is that when marital abandonment occurs, it is most often the faithful parent who has the emotional bandwidth and maturity to carry on the commitment the couple made to raise the children in the moral context to which they were accustomed prior to the divorce.”  But because no spouse is legally at fault, the “shared parenting” principle encourages custody arrangements where kids split time with both parents equally regardless of whether one parent is making damaging choices.

Towers shares some real-life snapshots of what this “shared parenting” can look like from the child’s perspective.

  • It’s waking up Saturday mornings to fend for yourself until around noon when dad and his girlfriend emerge from a dark bedroom in the dumpy, dingy apartment that is now your temporary home.
  • It’s being left high and dry when mom forgets to pick you up because she’s getting it on with her boyfriend at their new place together.
  • It’s regular exposure to pornography and troubling shows like “13 Reasons Why” in the vacuum of parental supervision under a new Disney mom or Disney dad regime.
  • It’s subsisting on too-little sleep, junk food, and soda two weekends a month and coming home exhausted and grumpy to the responsible parent who suffers the consequences for days.
  • It’s the repeated and prolonged (court-ordered) exposure of a preteen girl to mom’s burly new boyfriend who vacillates between ignoring and ogling her—the very man responsible for the constant pain she is experiencing at the loss of her family.
  • It’s the tummy aches and nightmares that won’t go away.
  • It’s the teen boy with the sparkle in his eye and love for his faith who in the wake of his father’s abandonment and remarriage hates God and speaks of suicide.
  • It’s the daughter, who once contemplated religious life, who now posts half-naked photos of herself on social media, slathered in makeup as if to mask the anguish of innocence lost in the emulation of her mother’s behavior.
  • It’s feeling the guilt and sadness of knowing that church is important, but having to watch TV sitcoms every other Sunday morning instead; the knowledge that to raise the issue with daddy would bring that sickly, torn apart inside feeling to the surface again.

Them Before Us readers aren’t surprised by any of this.  Maria, Nate, Melody, and Jennifer all described how they suffered in the wake of their parent’s divorce, even in the context of “shared parenting.”  They, and any honest student of the research on family structure will tell you that a married mother and father is the arrangement that most benefits children.  But that means adults have to sacrifice what they want so that their children can have what they need.  Specifically, that means working things out in their marriage, instead of believing that the solution lies in shared parenting after a divorce.