This afternoon I sat and listened for about half an hour while my six-year-old daughter worked out her frustration with all the changes in her life lately:
“You tore our family apart!” she cried “And you spent all that time fixing my room and now I don’t live there.”
You see, my husband and I have separated. And the children and I have moved away. Both major transitions in their lives, which, for the most part, they’ve been handling fairly well.
Today, though, something cracked in my little girl and she needed someone to blame. So she chose me. I also get the blame for her shoes being too big, her favourite dress having not been put in the hamper to be cleaned, her toys breaking, anything she spills, and her homework being left at school.
I’ve got big shoulders, obviously.
The fact is, blaming myself for the failure of my marriage is like blaming myself for the yogurt she spilled on the couch cushion after her ranting session and cuddle.
Yes, I need to accept some responsibility. I let her eat the yogurt in the living room, after all. She was the one who was careless with it, however. But in the end, spills happen. They’re one of those things … sometimes you can clean them, sometimes they stain forever.
But no one is ever 100 per cent responsible for them. There are two parties to the occurrence, and a lot of often uncontrollable or unforeseen events. And like spills, while we can’t always control what happens to us or our relationships, we can control how we react to those events.
I didn’t yell at my daughter for spilling the yogurt any more than I resented her for blaming me for our separation. Yes, those feelings arose momentarily, but logic quickly prevailed.
Yet, I also didn’t let her blame turn into my self-blame. Such a thing is pointless and only turns us in randomly widening circles of conflict and blame with no resolution.
Which is pretty much what happens when one party decides another is to blame — especially for destroying the institution of marriage.
Thomas Sowell, an economist I admire despite his overly-right leaning, once tried to declare that the press convolutes divorce statistics precisely because they want marriage to fail.
Apparently, all left-wingers since Rousseau have believed marriage to be an institution that pervades society and destroys individualism.
I’m not sure what any of that has to do with left-leaning politics, really. Nor do I think Rousseau himself wanted people to stop marrying. In fact, Rousseau praised married life in his writing — though his personal situation was somewhat different.
The thing is, most people who don’t personally believe in marriage — as perhaps Rousseau was — either support or are indifferent to the institution itself.
I’ve never heard someone say “everyone should stop getting married. Let’s destroy marriage!”
But I’ve often heard people blamed for wanting to destroy marriage. Homosexuals fighting for their right to marry — lauding the institution enough to want it for themselves — are often accused of trying to destroy marriage.
So are those who decide to cohabitate instead of legally wed.
Hard to have it both ways, but reactionaries often do. In North America the divorce rate has stabilized but the marriage rate is still falling.
I don’t think this is due to “the gays,” the left, the press, or those “living in sin.” I think it’s due to the fact that we all respect marriage so much we don’t want to make the same mistakes we saw play out over the last three decades as the divorce rate rose.
So, yes, many young adults are putting off marriage or choosing to live together first. And, yes, some are choosing never to marry because they just feel they can’t make that commitment. But at the same time we have people who want to be married, who respect the institution itself, but traditionally weren’t allowed to marry, being told that they are to blame for the failure of marriage.
To me it sounds like the ranting of a frustrated six-year-old.
Perhaps, marriage hasn’t failed at all. Perhaps it has succeeded to the point where we observe it, again, as something to strive and work for, as something to fight for, and definitely not to take lightly.
And perhaps, if we all stop blaming each other, we could live together peacefully, legally married or not.
You can comment on this column or access previous editions of Readily A Parent using the following short link: http://bit.ly/DaraSquires.