This month Vanessa Trump, the wife of Donald Trump Jr. filed for divorce in a Manhattan court. Vanessa and Donald Jr. have been married for 12 years and have 5 children ranging from 10-year-old daughter Kai to 3-year old Chloe. “After 12 years of marriage, we have decided to go our separate ways,” the couple said in a joint statement. “We will always have tremendous respect for each other and our families. We have five beautiful children together and they remain our top priority.”
While the couple says that the children are their “top priority” the media isn’t focusing on the children at all. Instead, there has been much discussion about the couple’s iron clad pre-nuptial agreement, Vanessa hospitalization from an envelope containing white powder, and the hand-off of the family business which has consumed Donald Jr.’s time since his father took office. The focus on this divorce typifies how we view divorce in general: as a decision that primarily impacts the adults.
But whatever else is going on in their parents’ world there is only one thing that matters to the kids- the two people they love the most don’t love each other anymore.
No prenup includes clauses which seek to keep the children’s emotional, physical, and mental stability intact in the event that the marriage comes to an end. Because no document has such power. You cannot equally divide a child up after divorce- half of them will always be with their missing parent. A child’s heart is torn in two even in the most amicable of separations.
Many parents “get over” their divorce. It certainly seems that Trump Sr. has mastered that skill. But for children, it’s not so easy. Donald Jr. was 12 years old when his own parents separated, when his father left his mother for Trump Sr.’s second wife. Donald Jr. did not speak to his father for a year, likely due to the anguish that every child of divorce knows all too well.
According to his Instagram posts, Donald Jr. is close to his kids. What kind of assurances has he given them about the future? Does he remember how difficult his life became when his own parent’s marriage ended? How bedtime routines and snuggles with dad and mom were halved? How family vacations were always missing one person that he consider to be “family?” How he wondered “Where am I staying tonight? Who is picking me up? Do I have to go? Can’t I stay in my own bed? When will I see you again?”
Stability, security, connection, attention and protection are all compromised post-divorce, making children even more vulnerable to the chaos of a broken world. And that’s not the only thing that the kids will have to accept as their new normal. As Donald Jr. knows all too well, his kids should probably prepare for a revolving door of new partners and spouses in their parent’s lives.
Despite the fact that I’m sure both Donald Jr. and Vanessa have been told that “children are resilient” the data tells a different story. There are serious social, emotional and physical implications for children of divorce. Divorce is an “ACE” an Adverse Childhood Experience which inflicts long-term trauma on children.
Not only that, but children of divorce are more likely to experience divorce in their own marriage. Nicholas Wolfinger in “Understanding the Divorce Cycle”, reports that the risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home and 200 percent higher when both partners do. Not only that, but children of divorce are less likely to tie the knot than their peers who grew up in intact homes. Of course having divorced parents does not mean that your own marriage is doomed to fail, but children of divorce grow up with a broken marriage model where “till death do us part,” looks less like a promise and more like a platitude.
As a child Donald Jr. observed the view of marriage as a vehicle for adult fulfillment. If that’s what marriage is then it follows that when the adults are no longer fulfilled, there must no longer be a marriage. But the Trumps, and most of the rest of society, have gotten marriage wrong; it’s not primarily about adult happiness. It’s about bringing together the three staples of a child’s social/emotional diet– mother’s love, father’s love, and stability. Divorce necessarily denies a child one or more of those staples. And we have a country of emotionally starving children to prove it. Donald Jr.’s kids are about to be counted among them.
Despite the pain that his own parent’s divorce inflicted on him, Donald Jr wasn’t able to break the divorce cycle. Instead he will pass that oppressive task onto his children. Donald Jr. is a living statistic. Let’s hope his children won’t be.