The warnings are frightening. Children from broken homes are more likely to end up divorced – if they get married at all. Nicholas Wolfinger, from the University of Utah and author of the book Understanding the Divorce Cycle: The Children of Divorce in Their Own Marriages says,
“the risk of divorce is 50 percent higher when one spouse comes from a divorced home, and 200 percent higher risk when both of them do.
Estimates show that by the age of eighteen 50% of children will experience a parents’ separation and divorce at least once. If those numbers hold true then with my two kids one them is almost guaranteed to marry a person whose parents split. If that’s the case, we might as well hire family attorneys during the honeymoon.
My children were shockingly young when I divorced and at that time the perceptions of a two-year and nine-month old about daddy’s romantic relationships were irrelevant. I was like James Bond with a license to act however I wanted with whomever I chose. At the time I saw my responsibility as a father as twofold, pay their mother and keep them from their sticking fingers in light sockets and running with knives on my weekends. Thanks to their naps and naivety, I never concerned myself with the need to set a proper example.
Eventually, three events would occur that forced me to seriously reevaluate that life view. First, I had experienced a string of relationship disasters that left me emotionally desolate and spiritually bankrupt. Second, my children were at the age they began to unknowingly share small details about their mom and step-dad’s marriage. And third, upon meeting the Queen I realized her children had no immediate example for what a healthy relationship should look like.
When it comes to a marriage and romantic relationships in general, I think there are a few universals we all acknowledge; fidelity, commitment, love, etc. There remains however other attributes each of us differ widely on; honor, faith, spousal duty to name a few. As my kids began sharing stories about their mother’s marriage it soon dawned on me that unless they had another model of what a respectful, honorable, and healthy relationship looked like they’d be destined to imitate whatever they saw. I know exactly where I learned how to love and display affection – my father. A man of few words, years later I would find myself just like him unable, but more often unwilling, to express my true feelings. It would take years of therapy to change that.
It has become one of the Queen’s and my most important life missions; to be an example to our kids of what a healthy and loving relationship should look like. I want her son to see a man respect and love his mother, I want my son to watch his dad honor a woman, and I want both of our daughters to learn what to expect from boys by how I love and respect her. I believe it is one – if not the – most important callings I have as a father.
And we know the cards are stacked against us.
As divorced parents neither the Queen nor I can control how our ex’s manage their personal relationships. It isn’t our place to remind everyone that conflict doesn’t need to erupt in screaming matches, cursing, and slamming doors. It’s not for us to suggest how each should speak to their spouses or significant others. And we also know we shouldn’t discredit our ex’s in front of our kids by what we see or hear. All we can do is remain intentional about our own relationship and model for them what we believe is genuine.
Just last week my son and I stopped by the Queen’s to pick something up. While I was there, as I often do, I wanted to leave small love notes around her house as surprises to stumble upon when she cleans her kitchen, puts on makeup, or pulls back the covers for bed. It’s something we’ve both done since day one. After he watched me write notes professing my undying love for her I asked him to help me hide them. I wanted him to be a part of what was happening. When he asked why I was doing all this I explained it was because I love her and I want her to know it when she reads these notes, plus she likes surprises. Within minutes he was anxiously looking for the perfect hiding spot, and while he didn’t give our talk another thought I could tell the message registered.
I am often deliberate about displaying my affection for her in front of her children. I purposefully do and say things when I know they will hear it because I want them to know that, despite what happened to their parents or those of so many of their friends, relationships can and do work. I want the Queen’s children to understand that their mother is loved completely and I want my kids to see their father sincerely love a woman. And I want them all to look back with fond memories on how their mom and dad loved, honored, and cherished one another when everything around them says it couldn’t be done.