Ben Affleck’s mom is unhappy.
According to news reports, Christine Boldt supports Jennifer Garner’s willingness to reconcile, and is advising her son to get his act together and try counseling as a way to work through their marital problems.
While I’m sure Boldt means well — as a mom myself, we always mean well — she may be forgetting that the couple, who announced their divorce this past July after 10 years of marriage and after having three children together — Violet, 10, Seraphina, 6, and Samuel, 3 — had been in marital therapy since allegedly splitting nearly three years ago. Therapy can only go so far, however, and since then there were allegations of Afflect’s trysts with their nanny, Sienna Miller and Abigail Kuklis. (No word on any of Garner’s “bad” behavior.)
But the bigger question is, should parents have a say in their adult child’s marriage or divorce?
When I wed for the first time, a few months before my 21st birthday, my parents had no say whatsoever. In fact, I called them up the day before our wedding (I was living in Colorado at the time and my parents were in New York) and announced, “We’re getting married tomorrow!” And that was that. As much as they liked him, I’m sure they would have preferred that I didn’t marry so young (at least they didn’t have to pay for a wedding). Thankfully, when the marriage ended a few years later, they didn’t say, “We told you so.” And while I’m sure they felt bad for him and me, they didn’t try to talk me out of it. I wouldn’t have listened anyway.
Kids change everything
The second time I divorced, however, was entirely different. By then I had kids, 9 and 12, and my parents were very worried, not only about me but them — their only grandchildren. My dad sent me a long impassioned letter not entirely dismissive of my then-husband’s philandering, but presenting what he thought was a rational decision to stay married for the kids. Of course, my dad had no idea I knew of his own philandering and so I took his advice — which for many years I sought — with an acknowledgement of his agenda (it worked for your mother and me, and so …).
My mother was also extremely worried. But when I allayed many of her fears of how I’d support myself and asked her if she really wanted me to stay with someone who didn’t respect me, she quietly said, “No.”
That was not a choice that was available to her, a Holocaust survivor who never finished high school or went to college, and who had no marketable skills while raising two young girls, but who created a nice career for herself when my sister and I were teens — and then lived apart from my dad for about a decade. Much more than my dad, she understood how economic freedom gives women choices, including leaving a marriage they no longer want to be in, even if they have kids.
Private or public?
We wed in a great public display of love and commitment. Divorce, however, is a totally private and personal event. But, is it really?
Perhaps not, suggests M. Christian Green, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and a former lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. Divorce doesn’t just affect a couple and their immediate family, she says — it has a ripple effect, and friends, neighbors and entire communities are impacted as well, as I’ve written before.
But do they have any say in your marriage or divorce?
They’ll try to, as Astro and Danielle Teller make very clear in their slim but engaging book Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage, which, among other things, addresses the shame and judgment spewed as “truth” that basically well-meaning people thrust upon anyone who’s considering divorce or divorces — marriage is always good and divorce is always bad; all marital problems can be fixed with help; people who divorce are selfish, people who stay married are selfless; if you can’t make your marriage happy, or if you divorce, you must be defective; you ruin your children’s lives; true love is the reason to marry but if you become unhappy in your marriage, you should stop believing in true love; and, finally, it’s not OK to leave a marriage to be with a new partner.
Except, as the Tellers point out, the research doesn’t back up any of what we’ve been told and thus believe.
So where does that leave us when it comes to listening to your parents about your marriage or divorce?
First role models
Our parents are our first role models of marriage; consciously or not we either reject their model or embrace it. Affleck’s parents split shortly after he was born and divorced when he was 11; according to reports, his father’s alcoholism was the reason. Raised primarily by his mom, he allegedly wants to be a present dad. It’s easy to see that Boldt might want to spare her grandkids the pain her divorce may have caused her two sons. Garner’s Southern childhood and close-knit family couldn’t be more different.
The couple will evidently spend Christmas together with their kids, which is what my former husband and I did every every year until, well, this year, by the younger son’s choice. But don’t take that as a sign that they’re going to be a happily married couple again.
They may or they may not. I would pretty much guarantee that it won’t be because of what his mom wants.
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