When the news broke this week about why Kate Perry and Russell Brand’s 14-month marriage ended last year — Brand, at age 37, was eager to start a family and Perry, 27, wasn’t ready — I was reminded of my first marriage. It was clear that the singer and the comedian didn’t have the conversation about kids — do we want them? when do we want them? how many do we want? — and neither did my then-husband and I. Or maybe they did and they didn’t ask the right questions, or understand the answers or, well, who knows.
The kid discussion is an essential one to have because couples who don’t see eye to eye about kids are twice as likely to divorce, according to studies, and childfree couples divorce more often than couples who have at least one child.
Still, many of us think that a divorce without kids is no big deal; there’s no custody or co-parenting battles, child support or fears about how your decision will impact the kids for years to come. You’re just splitting up stuff and money — it’s sort of like “divorce lite.”
When I look back at my first divorce, it feels that way — now. After my first husband and I split, we never kept in contact again. That doesn’t mean that in the moment I wasn’t sad, grieving, confused, hurting — I was, and so was he. We didn’t have kids, but we were still a family, one that included parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces, grandparents, aunts, uncles and our dog. We tend to forget that a family isn’t just mom, dad and kids. Although, some people don’t see a husband and a wife as a family. As one HuffPo commentor put it:
When you have children, you have a family. With no children all you have is a marriage (which doesn’t seem to mean much to most people). Breakup of a FAMILY is much more difficult than breakup of a marriage.
A married childfree couple is just that — married? Not a family?
So I had to look at the definition of family as defined by those for whom it matters.
A family consists of two or more people (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption residing in the same housing unit.
A married couple without kids sure sounds like a family to me.
But there are many definitions of family, as Po Bronson points out, and it’s changing all the time.
OK, getting back to the original post, yes — having kids forever ties you to your former spouse, assuming one or the other still wants to be involved (and the other parent allows it!). Divorcing with kids is way more complicated; you can’t “move on” in the same way as you can if you divorce sans kids. At least that appears to be our thinking.
But I do wonder if we tend to make light of those who divorce and don’t have kids, as if divorce only matters if you have kids. If that’s so, well, then let’s name it: No one cares about your divorce if kids aren’t involved. If that’s so, then that’s sure to impact our seeming societal disgust over the 50 percent divorce rate. Obviously, we need to parse out those who are childfree and those whose kids are now adults — the so-called gray divorces — because what we’re really seem to be upset about is divorce that disrupts young, preteen kids’ lives and custody arrangements and child support, etc.
That’s what “matters,” right?
Perhaps, but I was reminded of a HuffPo blogger, Juliet Jeske, who assumed she and her husband would have kids one day. Then, after nine years of marriage, she discovered he was gay. Now divorced and in her late 30s, she finds finding a marriageable man in New York City hard (and as a former New Yorker myself, who wouldn’t?) because many men her age see her as being too old for mommy material. And her biological clock is ticking.
In her world, her window of opportunity is shrinking fast. Should we feel any less empathetic because of that? As marital therapist Lisa Rene Reynolds, author of Parenting Through Divorce: Helping Your Kids Thrive During and After the Split, says, dismissing the divorce of a childfree woman “may be opening up a whole other wound if (she) had wanted kids and didn’t have them before her marriage ended.”
That seems to be Jeske’s dilemma.
There are always complications with divorce, even the “good” ones, but it seems many of us don’t have much, if any, compassion for childfree — by choice or circumstance — divorcees. We don’t see the hoped-for children mattering as much as the existing children. And for those who choose not to have kids at all, society seems to be saying — get over it already!!!
- When you hear about a childfree couple divorcing, do you care less than if they had kids?
- Does it make a difference if the husband really wanted to have kids?
- Does it make a difference if the wife really wanted to have kids?
- Do you consider a childfree married couple a family?
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