Scene at the grocery store, on a regular school day, 6 pm.
Boy: “Mom, are you secretly dating someone else?”
Mom (jaw dropped) “What?? Of course not! When exactly were you thinking I was dating someone else? And why would you ask that?”
Boy ( absolutely serious faced): “Well, you go out at night and say you are having dinner with friends, and then you also go to the movies without Dad, so you might be dating in secret. Because that is what adults do, they cheat on each other.”
Mom: “Where did you get these ideas? I am very surprised by your questions”
Boy: “I saw it on The Secret Life of Timothy Green, that you made me watch. So, are you?”
Mom: “No my love. I would never do that to your Dad or to you guys. I love him and respect him.I am not interested in dating anyone else, so you can stop worrying about it.”
Boy: ” Good, ’cause I will be watching you”
This was my son and I discussing cheating and faithfulness at the store a week ago.
This is the anxiety that can grow in a 9 year old , due to the fear of even the slightest chance of losing all safety that a Mom and Dad represent and provide in a home. The fear of losing it all, quickly and suddenly, of feeling abandoned or even rejected.
I have read repeatedly that the success rate of Marriage in the United States is -and has been for at least a decade-just under 50%. How one defines “success” is a different story. I want to think of it as a relationship in which love, strongly tied to loyalty, respect, self fulfillment and permanence are present in a healthy and evident measure. (1)
Nowadays, divorce rate is the same sad story in several Latin American countries, including Mexico. Whatever it is that has caused this rise in the rate which used to be significantly lower in the 60’s and 70’s, can be deceiving. Where women as unhappy back then and just didn’t have it in them to leave? It is well known that women raised in the 40’s and 50’s -like my mom- were not as academically prepared or as ambitious as we women are now. It seems to me like they settled for less – as terrible as it sounds- and social expectations seemed to be quite different before. A man was proud of a stay-at-home mom that would care for their young 24/7, looked pretty, made the house look clean and tidy and knew how to cook and mend.
Year 2014: a completely different story; I see it everywhere from my family (immediate and extended) to close friends, to not so close friends. Men want and welcome the help, men want -or need-the second income and are not shy or proud to accept it. They encourage a working wife, proud of the fact that she can juggle between the huge tasks of dealing with the (often) men-dominated arena called Office Work or whatever other respectable job she has, and the mid century traditional chores, while showing -of course- the sweet tender loving maternal side. I should clarify, not all men embrace this. Some still believe the wife belongs at home, doing dishes, cooking meals, and dealing with 99% of the house work, which by the way I find brutally unfair.
So, back to marriage and divorce, are we all more selfish today? More demanding and less forgiving? Is the root of the problem in the home during our early formative years or does it start at the dating age, where young adults learn that marriage is not so cool anymore?
Whatever the cause is for the slow and painful loss of respect for the Marriage Institution, I have noticed it has a worrisome snowball effect.
Many children grow up lacking a vivid and constant example of loyalty, of love and respect, of spousal support, of balancing teamwork, individuality and self-sufficiency , of roughing it out through hard times and enjoying and sharing the good ones, so how are these children supposed to have the confidence, the inner strength and conviction to establish and keep good healthy relationships? Amazingly, some do, they overcome all the obstacles they grew up with and eventually figure it out. But for many others, it doesn’t go that well. So here starts the snowball effect, because this generation will probably engage in relationships that will end in a not-so-sound marriage; they will give it a try, a couple of kids later, if it doesn’t work out, they will quit, cheat, or just stay in a very unhappy marriage (let’s not forget, some couples stay together because divorce is just unaffordable). And it goes on and on and on.
I chatted once with a friend about who to spend the holidays with, and she told me each of them (her and her husband) and two pairs of parents/step-parents and each couple had their own kids, so she had to split 8 ways to visit everyone. Apparently she was the third generation of the mix-and-match trend. So I thought of two things: The Brady Bunch and …Snow Ball Effect. I have friends that have come from very unstable homes, dysfunctional in many ways and then find themselves in a marriage that is going south too. Then they worry about their own kids and what they will learn or what behavior they will adopt. Well, I would be worried too.
I am not criticizing those who have failed in their marriage and decided to split. We all make mistakes; however I strongly believe that there must be something in our society that is slowly permeating down to the very core, the intimacy of the smallest social unit: the family.
It is basic and simple values, I believe, such as respect, loyalty, self-love and responsibility that are taken a bit too loosely by all of us in this ridiculously fast paced world. Values that mold little children into honorable and respectful people, into creative and daring creatures, into caring humans that look out for and actually care for the less fortunate.
In my opinion, it is in the early years then, that character is defined, challenged, life lessons taught , that can help a person thrive towards a happier life or spiral down -sometimes unaware- into a repeated and learned pattern. In my personal experience, it was a combination of many hard lessons, many falls and many challenges that made me not repeat a pattern that I observed, but didn’t absorb, and also a very constant example of loyalty and discipline that my parents taught us from a very early age. It saddens me to think of how these social concepts have changed -for the worse- in the last decades, but at the same time, being aware of it makes me work harder as a parent, as a wife. I can’t secure my childrens’ future, their happiness and self realization. But I can sure teach by example. Every little details counts.
(1) According to the American Psychological Association “[Happy Marriages].. are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems. However, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. ”
Dec. 3rd. update: I saw on the news today that divorce rates went down this year…Yey! But also, the number of people that marry decreased…back to square 1.