Friday, 26 December 2008

But think of the kiddies!

One of the many things that royally pisses me off about this time of year is the endless bloody slew of articles about 'children of divorce' at Christmastime. Commentator after commentator calling for us to think of the children and 'make marriage work'. Column after column sopping with souped-up stories of 'suitcase kids' being shuttled between mummy and daddy, clearly innocent victims of Broken Britain (c.Cameron 2007). This helpful Daily Mail article includes heart-rending testimonies from Tilly, Archie, Freddie, Cora and other improbably-named crisis tots, accompanied by laughable illustrations: a pixie-hatted munchkin kisses daddy goodbye; a ringletted white toddler moops mawkishly by a window, the epitome of Victorian chocolate-box fantasy; and everything is covered in a dubious blanket of perfectly crisp, white snowflakes. Gimme a break.

My fingers are balling into fists thinking of all of the women reading this arrant bullshit and feeling guilty for being unable to provide their loved ones with the perfect, industrial-capitalist, heteronormative nuclear family Christmas. My pansy liberal heart bleeds for the parents of both sexes currently ruining their own happiness and their children's mental health by staying in bad marriages after buying this sick conservative propaganda.

Let me make it clear right now that yes, I come from a 'broken' home. My parents' marriage disintegrated shortly after their children were born, and several years of 'holding it together for the kids', racked by unhappiness and infidelity, culminated in a messy and drawn-out divorce when I was in my early teens. Christmas since my parents separated has generally involved two sets of presents, significantly fewer rows, freedom to watch as much telly as we like and the blessed relief of not having to see my mother grit her teeth whilst serving Delia's turkey to my father. These days, my mum, sisters and I scoff down chocolate from our stockings in front of Will and Grace and apologise to nobody. Cry me a fucking river. My one regret is that my mother didn't leave my father sooner - something she might well have done had she not been convinced that my sisters and I would never recover. For the record, we have.

Because living with divorce is not bad for kids. Bad marriages are bad for kids (they're not a barrel of laughs for their parents either), but divorces are symptomatic of family strife: they do not cause it. What divorce is extremely bad for is the maintenance of an increasingly outdated status quo, one in which a lifetime's unpaid domestic labour is extracted from one partner - overwhelmingly the female partner - and in which male partners are isolated from the emotional sphere of family life as workers and as breadwinners.
The nuclear family, sustained by the middle-class myth of everlasting love and marriage, is an incredibly efficient way of dividing labour in the context of industrial capitalism, as observed by nearly every brave leftist writer from Engels to Betty Friedan. The idea of organising a household around one married, heterosexual couple and their children is, in fact, a relatively recent one, dating back to the mid-Victorian industrial surge: under a system where women were first blessedly permitted and then practically required to acquire paid employment, and following a welcome period of socio-cultural change, the myth of the nuclear family has become increasingly unstable. However, that hasn't prevented it from being used as a stick with which to beat women who dared to imagine a life for themselves beyond the Nazi dictat of Kinder, Kuche und Kirche. The idea that divorce causes social breakdown is a colossal case of post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Don't get me wrong: I sometimes wish my parents had been compatible enough to stay together. But given that they weren't, my family and I are all a damn sight better off with this arrangement. Let's cut the pretense that the conservative pro-marriage, anti-divorce propaganda circulating at this time of year and in this political climate is anything to do with protecting the welfare of children. When the Mail squeals at us to think of the kiddies, it is lamenting the turning of a tide of social change which even the continuing torrent of right-wing propaganda cannot turn back. It's Christmas. Everywhere, up and down the country, alternative families are celebrating together - single-parent families, stepfamilies, families with multiple and same-sex parents, families of friends, families of choice, families everywhere which fall outside an increasingly irrelevant socio-cultural norm. Many of us are having a bloody good time. And David Cameron can suck it right up.


  1. I'm going to agree with you - but for different reasons.

    I think if a marriage is in trouble, then as much work as possible should go into improving the relationship and overcoming the problems, because children are better off if they live in a secure family with their parents. When parents split up there's the complications of step-families and custody battles and parents fleeing entirely...and THAT is what's wrong with divorce.
    What i do agree with though is that divorce should happen if the parents are incompatable and their problems cannot be worked through. Living in a household where there's fighting, arguing, resentment and even violence is not right for a child to grow up in.

    As a child my parents marriage disintegrated, but they stayed together for my sake, though because i hated them arguing and being unhappy, i used to wish they would divorce. And so that is why i take that stance. But now i'm in a single-parent family, with a step-mother and step-brothers around sometimes, and it feels very unstable. Much less stable than a nuclear family. My fear of being disowned by my family is horrendous.
    And add to that - i'm 21 so the fear should be abating - imagine what it would be like for a small child!!! However due to illness i can be almost as dependent as a toddler at times, so family stability is very important.

    I think you were very lucky with your experience of divorce. It sounds like you avoided the fights, custody battles, violence, police interventions, etc etc that many families go through.

  2. I'm going to agree with you completely.

    I have a friend (currently SAHM with very young children, just like myself) who said to me just the other day, when we were talking about divorce, "But children need a father."

    I responded, "Perhaps, but they don't need that father within the nuclear family structure." Divorce doesn't mean that parents are lost. It can, if done "with the kiddies" in mind, actually mean redemption for everyone involved.

  3. Considering what a virago you turned out to be as an adult, it's probably just as well your parents split up. One of you abroad this earth is plenty in my opinion!



  4. Hard luck, Sappho - I've got two little sisters who are even fiercer :)

    heh. x


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