NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 11. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Contemporary culture tells us to measure our own happiness as paramount. But Janie B. Cheaney says that’s short sighted.
JANIE B. CHEANEY: “Ya know what I was thinking. No child should have to choose between parents. No child should have two parents that split up and hate each other. No child should think it’s their fault their parents split up. No child needs to deal with adult problems.”
That’s a Facebook post from a young lady I know. She’s 14. She’s expressing an “adult problem” too many children have to deal with.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable—many single parents find themselves single through no choice of their own. But often it’s just unhappiness on one side or the other, a gnawing dissatisfaction fed by daily irritation until it seems so unbearable it can no longer be borne.
I know a young woman who recently decided that, after living with a man for over 10 years and creating two children with him… I’m going to be very plain: This mother valued her own happiness over her children’s. That is self-deception in the worst way.
It sounds harsh—and it is harsh—but by every objective measure it’s true. Her children are too young to express themselves, but the young lady I quote above speaks for the little ones who suddenly have no home, only temporary residences first with Mommy, next week with Daddy.
She speaks for those who perpetually come second, no matter what Mom or Dad says.
She speaks for those who bear the burden of their parents’ unhappiness: No child needs to deal with adult problems.
Back in the early days of the women’s movement, when mothers who walked out on their families received magazine cover stories, the reasoning went like this: If I’m unhappy, won’t my kids be, too? They’re better off with a mother who knows who she is, who follows her dreams. When I’m fulfilled, they will benefit.
Children don’t need our happiness—they need our stability, our attention, our provision. A single parent struggles to provide those things. And two single parents who are bitter or resentful toward each other make it that much more difficult. Sometimes a divorce is amicable but usually it just pretends to be—or why seek a divorce in the first place? Soon enough, the pretense slips.
By the time a mother realizes that she’s traded her happiness for her children’s, it’s too late. Their resentment, sullenness, lack of direction and focus afflict her deeply. Add on the bills, the endless chores, the little problems she never has time to deal with until they’re big problems, and—too often—the failure to establish a stable relationship with someone else—and that was clearly a bad trade.
The children might be able to work through their trauma, find some sort of grounding, and launch productive lives. But the odds are against it, because we put them at a great disadvantage when they were too young to understand why. All for “happiness.” Why can’t we learn?
For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie Cheaney.