Primal Loss: The Wounds of Divorce No One Wants to Hear About

Gay Pride Month and the ‘Shot Heard Round the World’
June 12, 2017
Sympathy for the Devil
June 12, 2017

Each parent is half of who the child is. When the parents reject each other, they are rejecting half of the child. — Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., from the Foreword of Primal Loss…

Primal Loss has profound lessons to teach us as a society if we are willing to heed.

Jennifer Hartline is a Senior Contributor to The Stream, June 12, 2017

Jennifer HartlineCatholic author and blogger Leila Miller asked a few questions and got an earful of profound pain and heartache for her trouble. And thank God for it.

In her new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, the bandage is ripped off to expose a bleeding wound no one wants to acknowledge. It’s not a book of Leila’s invention, but rather a labor of love on behalf of those who’ve felt invisible and silenced for decades.

The authors of the book are 70 different adults whose parents divorced (for a wide variety of reasons). Their stories are painfully raw, candid, and until now have been unwelcome. Primal Loss seeks to change that. It’s time to talk about the real effects of divorce on children.

Primal Loss has profound lessons to teach us as a society if we are willing to heed.

What inspired Primal Loss, and what made you decide to put this book together?

LM: I am not a child of divorce myself, but over the course of a close friendship with another wife and mom here in town, I started to clue into the pain she was still dealing with from her parents’ divorce, even decades later. Most of her comments were made in passing, and she seemed nonchalant about it all, but I started asking more questions.

With the answers came an awareness that divorce left a more devastating legacy than I had ever realized. Eventually, I told my friend she needed to write a book about her experiences as a now-adult child of divorce. She never did end up writing about it; it was just too difficult to think about digging all that up.

So I took it upon myself to ask more adult children of divorce about their feelings and experiences. I continued to be stunned at their answers — and their hidden, unspoken pain. Imagining that I’d throw together a quick e-book, I wrote down a few simple questions and created a questionnaire.

On my Facebook page and my blog, Little Catholic Bubble, I asked for volunteers to give me their anonymous answers about their parents’ divorce and its effect on them. I was absolutely blown away by the replies. I knew this project had to turn into much more than just a quick e-book.

What was so shocking about the responses you were getting? 

LM: Two things, especially. First, that even “good divorce” left terrible scars and ongoing suffering. It was as if the shock of divorce in a low-conflict marriage was even more difficult to comprehend. If a marriage can end over something non-catastrophic, then is anything sure? The insecurity level of the contributors, the struggle to find firm footing and to trust — it was hard to read as I went through the participants’ answers.

Second, I was shocked by the fear there — the fear of being found out. Most of the contributors were afraid (some even to the point of terror) that their parents would find out they were participating in a book like this. Most of them have spent their lives placating and protecting the feelings of their parents, and parroting “the narrative” that the divorce was not only for the best, but also even a positive good. I had no idea that the children of divorce carry around this terrible burden year after year after year.

 So the anonymity you afforded all the contributors is what allowed them to be completely honest. For the very first time, they can say out loud how they really feel about what was done to them. And that’s the point, isn’t it? No one in our society wants to acknowledge that divorce is committed against our children. It’s not only about the adults. Yet no one ever asks the kids how they feel, because we don’t want to know.

LM: That is correct. We don’t want to know. It would ruin the narrative that “kids are resilient” and happy as long as their parents are happy. And since marriage in modern America is not so much about vows but about romance and sex, we are not to interfere with the adults’ romantic decisions.

What is really eye-opening is seeing this silencing play out in real life: As I and others started putting out excerpts from the book, or as comments from those wounded by their parents’ divorce came in, it was uncanny how consistently divorce defenders jumped into the conversation (one demanding to know why such a book as Primal Loss would even be published!).

The pro-divorce comments served to shame and silence the adult children who were now daring to speak out. A child of divorce put it best, on one of those contentious Facebook threads: “I wish for once that those who are divorced/divorcing will be silent and just listen. I’m so tired of feeling like I have to be mindful — yet again — of the grown-ups’ feelings.” It’s what they’ve done all their lives.

Who is Primal Loss for?

LM: Several different audiences. First, it’s for the adult children of divorce, who thought they were alone in their pain.

Second, it’s for those adults now considering divorce. Please read this book. I’ve had folks tell me that after reading the first ten pages, they will never consider divorcing.

Third, it’s for divorced parents, to give them more insight into their children’s pain, even decades later.

It’s also for priests, pastors, and therapists — who far too routinely counsel for divorce.

It’s important to note that I have an entire chapter with stories of hope — disastrous marriages that were redeemed, and how those redemptions came about. It’s possible to overcome the worst of situations, and the reward is both earthly and eternal.

Finally, Primal Loss isn’t about shaming anyone. It’s not about piling on the guilt. It’s about honesty, healing, and correcting our ways going forward. We simply cannot go on believing that divorce is no big deal. The Catechism calls divorce a “contagion,” and it’s infecting and corroding our families and our nation.


Jennifer Hartline is a Senior Contributor to The Stream. She is a proud Army wife and mother of four children. She writes passionately on the issues of Life, faith, family and culture, and has been published extensively at Catholic Online and at Catholic Stand. She is currently pursuing a degree in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. She runs on dark chocolate and peppermint mochas.