Book looks at the pain of divorce for children

Catholic author Leila Miller has written “Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak” (LCB Publishing, $17.95), a book featuring the stories of 70 children of divorce. Miller asks the subjects of the book eight questions about how their parents’ divorce has affected their lives, such as: What were the main effects of your parents’ divorce on your life? What would you like to tell your parents then and now?

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The book’s endorsements include Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Miller’s home diocese, Phoenix, who wrote: “‘Primal Loss’ records for us the actual pain of those most wounded by divorce — children. This makes it countercultural in the best of ways. … It will help all who bear wounds caused by broken marriages, including divorcées themselves, not only to see in truth what has happened, but also to seek the One whose mercy is greater than our sins and whose Cross is our only hope.”

Miller is a “revert” to the Catholic faith and mother to eight children. She spoke with Our Sunday Visitor about her latest book.

Our Sunday Visitor: Why was this book on divorce needed?

Leila Miller: Because it tells the story of divorce from a seldom-heard perspective, that of the adult children of divorced parents. In my introduction, I quote well-known divorce researcher Elizabeth Marquardt, who said that “the divorce debate has long been conducted by adults, for adults, on behalf of the adult point of view.”

The social science is conclusive: Divorce damages children. It destroys their family. This book is not written from a clinical point of view, however, nor is it mine. It is the voice of children of divorce reflecting on their experiences, often decades after the divorce occurred.

OSV: In the book’s foreword, Jennifer Roback Morse of The Ruth Institute talks about the divorce ideology as a linchpin of the sexual revolution. How would you describe the divorce ideology?

Miller: As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft has noted, if anything else had impacted society with such negative effects, it never would have been allowed. But since divorce touches on sex and the adults’ desire to be sexually and romantically happy, it is not only allowed but encouraged. It is part and parcel of the sexual revolution. When it comes to our desire for sexual pleasure, we can justify anything.

OSV: How did you come to write the book?

Miller: A friend had shared with me over the years how her parents’ divorce has negatively impacted her. I suggested she write a book about her experiences, but she never wanted to. Children of divorce generally keep quiet about their experiences, as they are subject to criticism and don’t want to upset their parents.

So I sent out a divorce questionnaire through my Facebook page and within a few days more than 100 people responded. When I saw their answers, I thought it would make for a great read. Not being a child of divorce myself, I didn’t realize so many people had been devastated by it.

So I made each question into a chapter and let those who responded speak. And, as my following is mostly Catholic, the vast majority of the stories are written by Catholics.

OSV: You received Bishop Olmsted’s endorsement.

Miller: I always want to make sure whatever I do is OK with my bishop. He has been extremely supportive of letting people know about the pain divorce causes. In fact, I was at a Catholic conference during which he celebrated Mass, and it was the subject of his homily.

OSV: You ask respondents about the impact of their parents’ divorce. What were some common answers?

Miller: Many experience insecurity, especially when it comes to their own marriages and relationships. They could be married to a saint who would never leave them, but still they maintain an exit plan.

Marred by their parents’ divorce, down deep they expect their own marriage to end. In fact, one woman had actually filed for divorce several times but rescinded it each time. She knew it was irrational, but it was a knee-jerk reaction to conflict with her husband.

OSV: What were the responses to your question about how their parents’ divorce affected their own marriages?

Miller: There was some hope there; some said it strengthened their idea of what marriage should be. They didn’t want to do what their parents did.

However, they also said they didn’t know how to “do” marriage, as they had no role models to follow. For them, conflict in marriage means permanent separation. So, they had a fear of conflict, as they assumed it would end their marriages.

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OSV: You ask about the maxims “children are resilient” and “children are happy when their parents are happy.” What feedback did you get?

Miller: This is where I received the most visceral responses. I had to use asterisks due to the harsh language. ... One woman said something to the effect of, “If I slap you and tell you it makes me happy, and you’d better be happy because I’m happy ... who came up with that?”

Another pointed out that while children can survive war and poverty and disease, why would we choose to put them in these situations in the first place?

OSV: You also ask about the role of faith in recovering.

Miller: Yes. Mass, the sacraments and the Rosary were huge in their recovery. These are all part of the spiritual component that can lead to healing.

OSV: What did you learn in the course of writing this book?

Miller: I had no idea that the pain of divorce lingered for so many decades. I also had no idea that these children had such difficulty talking about it or were so seldom asked about it. One man in his 30s mentioned that no one had ever asked him how he felt about his parents’ divorce.

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It is my hope that the scales will fall from our eyes and people will think twice before putting their children through a divorce. So often we’re only thinking about the happiness of adults and ignoring the children.

I have no doubt that the parents of almost every one of these 70 children of divorce could have gotten through their issues and overcome their problems. I conclude the book with some stories of other people who have. If we persevere we can get to a better place rather than if we throw off our crosses and go on our merry way. We don’t become sanctified in spite of our crosses but because of them.

Jim Graves writes from California.