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By Joshua Charles, The Stream, August 4, 2017
Another good friend’s parents are divorcing. The vast majority of my Millennial peers have already told me the same news about their parents.
Older generations are inclined to be harsh toward Millennials. We certainly deserve it, in some ways. We avoid marriage and family life and when we marry, we tend to marry late. Millennials seem “afraid of commitment.” We won’t “settle down.” Many of us would rather live together than get married.
But why? Part of the reason is way too many of us have seen our parents, you, divorce after decades of marriage. I don’t claim this is the only reason, or even necessarily the prime reason, but it is a major reason.
I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve had whose parents have divorced after 25, 30, 35 years of marriage (sometimes fewer). The breakups are always heartbreaking, and often very nasty.
No generation has seen divorce among its parents as much as the Millennial generation. I would not at all be surprised that it has necessarily played a role in many Millennials’ decisions to get married later, not at all, or to go on “test runs” with significant others through cohabitation.
Some of these choices are wrong. But given the demographic slaughter that has occurred among many of their parents, can the same generation which shows what marriage is not blame them for not knowing what marriage is?
The Grief of Seeing Your Parents Divorce
I have also experienced the pain and grief of seeing my parents divorce. I was fortunate to be in my mid-20’s, and thus able to deal with it as an adult rather than as a child. But it was a seminal moment nonetheless.
We grew up as a generally respected Christian family. Neither me nor my siblings believed our parents would ever divorce. Little did we know that the issues that popped out toward the end of the marriage were but the latest manifestation of many deeper issues that had been going on for years. The divorce was merely the culmination of a cancer that had long been ignored, and never treated.
None of this is to take away from the amazing contributions both my parents made to my life, for which I am forever grateful. But it is a deep wound to suddenly realize that this place called “home” that you always assumed would be there no longer is. It cuts deeply when the one thing you think only happens to “other people’s families” happens to yours — when the one thing your parents promised they would never do they did.
My parents married relatively young, but certainly no younger than was common in their day, and certainly no younger than has been very common throughout much of human history. Every marriage and family is different, and thus I hesitate to be too general in commenting on the causes of divorce.
But what is certain is that my generation has seen more of divorce than any other. The family — the God-made bedrock of our lives, our education, our moral formation, and for many of us our faith — has been shattered.
It’s a terrifying thing to see your parents spend decades in a relationship, only to see it all go down the drain. You have to ask, “If this happens so much to good people, after decades of marriage, what hope do I have for a successful marriage?”
The question many Millennials invariably ask is “For what?” Many of our parents have been horrible teachers of marriage and family life, for invariably even a good family life that ends in divorce cannot avoid a peculiar sense of vanity. Precious things that seem wasted always will.
You cannot look askance at the generation so ill-taught and judge them for undervaluing what you taught them to esteem cheap. As the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote, “It is not young people who degenerate. They are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted.”
By all means edify, encourage and lovingly correct my generation on marriage. But before judging it, make sure you are being honest about the world you gave them.