Thursday, September 22, 2011

Applied Rationalizing

In an otherwise thought-provoking post on adultery and divorce, Athol Kay writes:

Which leads us obviously to the question of "What about the children?"

My feeling is that someone who is a terrible spouse, is very frequently a terrible parent.

  • An alcoholic husband, is an alcoholic father.
  • A Batshit Crazy wife, is a Batshit Crazy mother.
  • A chronically unemployed husband, is a chronically unemployed father.
  • An absent cheating wife, is an absent neglecting mother.
  • A criminally involved husband, is a criminally involved father.
  • A slovenly hoarding wife, is a slovenly hoarding mother.

And I'm sure you get the idea....

So yeah... what about the children? Shouldn't you be doing something?

Unsurprisingly, I’m oppose divorce on first-order grounds.  Perhaps surprising is that I do so knowing that what I ask – spending one’s entire life intimately attached to another human being – is supremely unnatural.  So I get the frustrations and disappointments, and I understand that many people will fail to keep the vows they make.  Yet I reply:  be as happy as you can, enduring what you must.

Precisely because the project is so difficult, we should be especially keen to avoid abetting the female (and let’s face it, when we’re talking about people who initiate divorce, we’re usually talking about women) tendency towards self-rationalization, and nothing reeks of self-rationalization like claiming to be getting divorced “for the good of the children.”

First of all, the data on the negative outcomes for the children of divorce is sufficiently established that it hardly needs citation.  I’m frankly surprised that Athol writes as if he is unaware of it.

But second of all, let’s walk through the list above:  alcoholism, unemployment, infidelity, criminality, slovenliness, and “batshit crazy” (by which I assume Athol means mental illness).  Of these, only two, alcoholism and mental illness, have any relationship to a child’s physical safety, and not always even then.  The other flaws are certainly bad examples to set for children, assuming the children are aware of them and lack any forceful countervailing influence.  More than likely, though, it is the aggrieved wife that brings her husband’s shortcomings to the children’s attention as a way of self-validation, which kind of deprives her of the moral high ground regarding bad examples.

Even so, the parenting would have to be, not just bad, but pathologically bad for single parenthood to be the preferred solution.  The generality is that children are made worse off by divorce; that you happen to know of counterexamples doesn’t mean you are smart enough to predict yourself one of them.

Is this a compelling reason for a woman (or a man, for that matter) to stay in a bad marriage?  Maybe, maybe not.  The point is that someone contemplating divorce should be fully cognizant of the tradeoff he is making:  his own happiness and well-being (possibly) for his children’s (probably).


Justin said...

It has also been shown that "bad marriages go good" over time, IF the parties have the character to stick it out.

dienw said...

Perhaps surprising is that I do so knowing that what I ask – spending one’s entire life intimately attached to another human being – is supremely unnatural.

Being tied to a monster is hell. As I am the one caring for my ninety-six y.o. mother, I, unlike my brethren, realize the monster she is and the hell my father went through. He may have stuck through the marriage but he probably realized the nature of the woman a few years after the marriage.

Dr. Φ said...

One of the tragedies -- perhaps inevitable, but a tragedy nonetheless -- is that initiating divorce is, as far as I know, the only gateway to legal remedies for mistreatment or neglect in a marriage. Imagine a woman (let's say) who goes before a judge demanding, "make my husband support his family!" "Are you divorcing him?" the judge asks. "No, I just want him to do what he is supposed to do." "Sorry, I can't help you unless you divorce him," the judge replies.

Not sure what this has to do with NJ's comment, with which I agree.