Sunday, September 12, 2010

Book Review: The Children of Divorce

While I try to maintain boundaries on sharing the intimate details of my personal life on my blog, I cannot help but draw connections between my own story and Andrew Root's newest book, The Children of Divorce.

Root's premise is that divorce is not only a sociological or psychological upheaval, but that at its roots has ontological implications. Divorce affects our very sense of being in the world.
It is my belief that our humanity (and very being) is upheld in community. For each of us, the most significant and core of these communities is the one made up of a biological mother and father. Without their community, there would be no child. So when that community is destroyed, it is a threat to the child's being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unity, but the break of the community in which the child's identity rests. Divorce is much more than a psychological or sociological reality. It is about something deeper than economic advantage, psychological stability, or social capital. Divorce is a threat to a child's very ontology, to his or her very being.
Root offers a history of the family as a social unit, revealing that our current societal norms creates a culture ripe for divorce. In the past, marriage was based around kin, location, and economic motives; in our present day, marriage's foundation is generally around an emotional choice between two lovers, a choice that can just as easily be unchosen. Living in this risky world, children must live with the reality that their family--and thus their very sense of being--could be uprooted at any moment. Root reveals the ontological effects of divorce with a comprehensive look at the sense of self through the multifaceted lens of philosophy (Martin Heidegger), social theory (Anthony Giddens), and theology (Karl Barth). If we find our being through community and relationship, and if the central relationship of family is shattered, then our very being becomes fractured. Root puts it this way:
In constant interaction with this community of mother and father, the child discovers himself and his world. When this world collapses, the unreal floods his being, for even though he may be old enough to have other objects and communities in his life, he has lost the one that has been from the beginning the one that made him real, the one that is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. When this is taken away, the young person is lost.
The practical implications of this reality are enormous. We cannot approach children of divorce by only giving them information or offering temporary sympathy for their emotions; we must recognize that a central foundation of their being has been torn away. They are not just emotionally hurting, much like the temporary pain of an insult or a lousy day; they are hurting from the depths of their soul, which has lifelong effects. Root shares numerous stories throughout the book, from young children to adults, all sharing the same ontological anxiety.

Root manages to take a very academic approach to a complex subject and still affect one's heart. As I read Root's introductory own story of how both his and his wife's parents made decisions to separate, the wave of emotions hit me. His story is near-parallel to mine, with my own parents recently separated and a growing sense of ontological urgency welling up in my heart. It was a deeply healing book to read. Root's personal reflection gave a voice to the emotions struggling within my own soul:
I felt numb, cut loose, unbound. My family had never been perfect, but it had been my family. Now that it was falling apart, it seemed as if I had nowhere to stand. It was like the scene late in the movie Back to the Future, where Marty begins to become transparent as it looks like he will fail to bring his teenaged parents together. It seemed as if I were fading into nothingness.
If one's being and sense of self can be shaken as an adult, how much more do our young people in the homes of divorce deal with ontological anxiety? Names and faces from youth groups past and present came to mind as I reflected upon the book. They are in need of a solid community where their sense of being can safely rub shoulders with others struggling to form their own identities. There is hope--the church can be a new family, a place where children of divorce can find belonging and regain a sense of being in the world. The Children of Divorce is a philosophically- and theologically-rich resource for those seeking to understand and love children of divorce in the name of Jesus.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Another book I need to add to my list : )