Have We Sold Out Family Life?


In the early 1960's, it was rare for a first grader to have more than one classmate who was from a divorced family. Today, in the year 2007, it is rare for a first grader ...

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In the early 1960's, it was rare for a first grader to have more than one classmate who was from a divorced family. Today, in the year 2007, it is rare for a first grader to be from an intact family. More than half of the couples marrying today will be divorced in the first five years of their marriage.

Contrary to public opinion, couples who live together before marriage have a higher incidence of divorce than couples who live apart. Recent social science studies indicate that even couples who have had some form of premarital preparation are prone to divorce.

There are a wide range of viewpoints that address marital dissatisfaction. A consensus perspective is that we do a poor job in educating and empowering people to understand the complexities of human relationships and long-term commitments. Developmentally, most of us have had little or no preparation for dating and ultimately marriage. We learned by doing. For some, but not for most, that was an effective process.

However, the social landscape that our children must navigate is much more complicated than it was forty years ago. At a very early age, our children are faced with some very complicated social decisions. Too few of our children have the skills and the tools to face those social choices responsibly and effectively.

In their health curriculums, beginning in pre-school and continuing through high school, few school communities address comprehensive human development, social relationships and human sexuality. At best, if these areas are addressed, it is in a piecemeal fashion.

So, one can raise the question, "Where do our children learn about human relationships, dating, marriage and family?" Another question to be raised: "Who is raising our present generation of children?" The traditional family system is no longer the consistent norm. Many children are being raised in single-parent households, where the parent must sustain two jobs to make ends meet. Oftentimes, grandparents, extended family members, babysitters and day care are the parenting mechanisms in a child's early development. Even in intact families, children are being raised and cared for by adults other than their parents.

This new formula for parenting and raising children is clearly producing a different outcome. Unfortunately, in some cases, some very basic values are getting lost in the shuffle of living. Some important life issues are not being addressed and some of the positive role modeling that we would want our children exposed to is missing.

It is clear that there is more than one model for effective parenting. The traditional, intact family model is not always the most effective paradigm for raising children effectively. Many single parent and blended parent households do a better job. Why? Because parenting is a full-time job that demands our full attention when it comes to raising our children.

Simple things often get passed over. Take a moment and think about your family system. How much time do you spend with your children in a given day? What is the quality of your conversation with your children in a given day? As a family, do you have dinner every night? In a given month, how many family activities do you share - family night, movie night or just staying home and being together?

Have we sold out family life all in the name of good activity? Have sports and after school activities taken on a life of their own? In a growing number of communities, sports and after school activities have taken control of family life. A growing number of good parents are letting those activities shape what happens in their homes.

Parents should not have to put off a family vacation and/or family time during a school break because student athletes are being obligated to participate in tournaments or practices for their sports on vacation time. In simple terms, that is unfair. Until we address things like that more aggressively and reclaim our families, our children are going to continue to be victimized and cheated. No student athlete should have to choose between a family ski vacation and a basketball tournament during a school break. That kind of decision-making is happening every school year and is going unchallenged by parents.

Ideally, if a couple decides to divorce, most people would hope that it could be amicable. In reality, more and more divorces are not amicable. They are a disaster and if children are involved, too often, it is even more disastrous.

Rarely do children ever want to divorce their parents, but unfortunately, more and more they are being placed in the middle. The undue stress, manipulation and victimization that takes place in many divorces is unconscionable. The way the Supreme and Family Courts are handling marital conflict and divorce as it relates to children, is a scandal.

Every month, I listen to countless adults talk about the abuse they have endured and the financial ruin they have suffered at the hands of the system. It's a system that might be schooled in understanding the technicalities and legalities of marital law, but has no sense of the impact of their actions on people's lives and especially the lives and development of the children involved, who have not elected to be victimized by this inept system.

Our approach to divorce in the state of New York is a disgrace. People are not treated with respect. Too often, all those involved in a divorce action are bullied and are not treated with dignity. The people who suffer the most due to this system of injustice are our children. On paper, they are supposed to have law guardians to protect their rights and act on their behalf. Unfortunately, more than anyone is willing to admit, they are not protected and the system too often does not act in their best interest. The wasted paper trail and waste of money in this regard could feed all the homeless people in Suffolk County for more than a year!

It is unfortunate when a twenty-year relationship with two beautiful children ends in divorce. What is even more disturbing is when the children of that failed relationship are used as emotional footballs. The system passively tolerates it by being sucked in by all the legal manipulation and game playing that goes on in a divorce proceeding.

The children involved in this case are in junior high school. They are not babies. They know right from wrong and are quite capable of expressing their feelings. Unfortunately, they are being used and abused by a system that has demonstrated by its' actions, that it has little regard for them and their feelings.

There are issues of physical and emotional abuse that have been documented by eyewitnesses from the neighborhood where these children have lived all their lives. However, due to legal manipulating, the testimony of eyewitnesses and mental health professionals who have worked with these adolescents over an extended period of time, has been thrown out of court.

As the legal system bankrupts these children's parents and plays its' games, the children in question continue to be emotionally traumatized for no other reason than they were born into an unfortunate marital situation that they did not choose.

When the children were told that the physically abusive parent might get sole custody of them, while they were with that parent, the boy jumped out of the car and ran. When that fact was raised in court, the attorney for the allegedly abusive parent stated that it was over exaggerated and really didn't happen, even though there was an eyewitness who saw the twelve-year-old jump out of the car as it approached a stop sign.

What will it take for the system to take off the blinders and look at the real needs of children who are caught in a situation that they did not create or ask to be born into? Where is there real justice?