Just about every marriage has its share of bad times; then again, some marriages simply go bad. The reasons for the latter include abuse, adultery, alcoholism (and other forms of chemical self-indulgence, such as drug addiction), and emotional and/or physical abandonment. Not to say that any one of those can’t be overcome, but they are four of the top five reasons why some marriages arrive at a point where there’s no going back.
I can’t think of (or find) an A-word for the fifth reason; therefore, I’ve invented a new disorder (it’s what psychologists do, after all): postnatal marital amnesia, or PNMA. A recent column of mine on the need for the marriage to “rule” in every sense prompted a flood of emails, letters, and even a few phone calls testifying to the ubiquity of PNMA.
Take, for example, the fellow who was essentially abandoned by his wife when their live-in young adult daughter, who was single, gave birth. Wife flipped into full grandmother mode and that was that. Or the stepmom who, when her husband’s teenage daughter visits for a weekend, takes her preteen daughter (likewise, from a first marriage) and herself to a hotel so as not to experience her stepdaughter’s disrespect and depraved behavior (said child enjoys telling her younger stepsister about her sexual exploits) that dad, by his own admission, pretty much ignores for fear of upsetting her.
On and on went these tales of woe. One failed or failing marriage after another brought about by misplaced priorities; to wit, otherwise clear-thinking adults who’d rather have a wonderful relationship with a child than with their spouses.
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Some of these otherwise clear-thinking adults might say their marriages were on the rocks, slowly coming undone, before the child-idol in question arrived on the scene. Sorry, but that’s no excuse. Take it from someone who’s been married for 50 years (to the same woman as opposed to some cumulative figure): when bad stuff happens in a marriage, the responsible thing to do is focus on fixing it. Avoiding marital problems by taking refuge in relationship with a child or children is cowardly, dishonest and immature.
People my age often talk with one another about the problems we see today’s young parents create for themselves. We talk among ourselves because most of us have learned, the hard way, that it is relatively rare for a young parent to listen to us, much less take our advice concerning child-rearing. On thing most of us observe is parents making idols of children. This idol-making takes numerous forms, one of which is posting daily photos of a child on some social media platform, accompanied by the day’s report of the child’s latest accomplishments (“Tiffany went down the slide at the park for the first time today!”), which no one should be deprived of knowing (and which all point to nascent genius of one sort or another).
Two such idol-makers can make a go of it (until their last idol leaves home at which point all bets are off), but when one parent has made an idol of a child and the other understands and practices the difference between love and idolatry –– well, uh-oh. I call it the child-centered divorce. In a way, the divorce simply makes official what has been the case for some time: to wit, PNMA.
As children, people my age or thereabouts were not fussed over, bragged about or made idols. It was obvious, furthermore, that our parents had much, much more of a relationship with one another than they had with us. We understand, therefore, that the benefit to a child of being merely loved and disciplined well, as opposed to idolized, is inestimable.
I certainly didn’t know it when I was a young parent, but I know it now: The past is the greatest of all teachers, and the greatest teachers, furthermore, always possess great respect for the past.
Family psychologist John Rosemond can be reached at www.johnrosemond.com.