Divorce And Remarriage Essay, Research Paper
Divorce and remarriage have a profound effect on the parents and can have harmful effects on the future relationships of their children. Marriage is a complicated and an arduous process with many trials. However, remarriage and the concept of a stepfamily is akin to walking barefoot on hot coals. The dynamics of a stepfamily is dictated early by the fantasies and the subsequently the realities of the marriage and stepfamily issues. In The Fantasy of the Perfect Mother, Nancy Chodorow and Susan Contratto call this “primary process” thinking. It means acting on fantasies and emotions rather than analyzation and interpretation. A marriage involves primary process as people fall in love and subsequently the realities of the hardship of marriage hits them. However, this process dominates a remarriage even more. Individuals entering into the remarriage are confident that they can make a marriage work. However, the result is that these remarriages fail at a greater percentage rate than those that occur the first time around. This situation is complicated even more if there is presence of children from previous marriage of the spouse. This “thinking process” is learned by the children inhabiting a stepfamily and then dominates their thought and actions into adulthood. A remedy of this situation is for the stepfamily to undergo this thinking process and to emerge with stronger and healthier relationships as a result of this ordeal.
The fantasies and misconceptions enveloping a family are illustrated in Nancy Chodorow and Susan Contratto’s “Fantasy of the Perfect Mother.” In the article, the authors present feminist theories and concepts that attack the idea of motherhood. Some of them present the belief that a mother can never be perfect in the rearing of her children and society will continue to harbor “unprocessed, infantile fantasies about mothers” (Chodorow and Contratto, 7). This idea is directly connected to the problems people encounter when they enter into the lair of a stepfamily as a member. This issue has been entitled “primary process” thinking. This idea of primary process thinking does not have to spell gloom and doom for the stepfamily unit. Nancy Chodorow and Susan Contratto provide a solution. “Secondary process” thinking entails thoughtful analysis and reaction to the surprising realities of a situation, instead of a preconceived, inflexible and emotional response to stepfamily problems.
Since times immemorial to the present, America has experienced incredible change in the family arena. Divorce was very rare in Colonial America. It was hard for both men and women. In Puritan New England, you could get a divorce if your spouse couldn’t have children. Most colonies granted what we would call “permanent separations” but neither party could remarry. Many men and some women “divorced” their spouse by leaving town or the colony. (Source: Making America: A History of the Unites States Volume a to 1877 by Carol Berkin) If the courts were presented with a divorce case, an assignment of guilty or not guilty was designated to either husband or wife and the only the person deemed not guilty was permitted to remarry as stated by Kay Pasley and Marilyn Ihinger-Tallman in their book, “Remarriage and stepparenting: current research and theory”. It is clear that society and church had the power to determine the formation of a stepfamily as only the innocent party could remarry. Divorce is difficult no matter where and when it occurs but society and church in colonial New England turned the process into a living nightmare. The sacred vow of “Till death do us part” was thus enforced by the church and society as marriages typically lasted until one of the spouse died. Divorce was almost non-existent as there were merely 1.2 to 4 instances out of every 1,000 marriages from the Civil War up to the turn of the Century (Pasley 10). After the Second World War, the number of divorced men began to outnumber widowers, and by the early nineteen eighties there were 9.2 million divorced and remarried couples in America (Pasley, 11). Today, the divorce rate is reaching new heights, and the fallout is easy to see: “Each child in a classroom half full of children of divorce cries out, Why me?” (Wallerstein, 28)
Stereotypes of the stepfamily are having increasingly destructive impact on the popular yet misunderstood remarriages. Traditionally, many people in society tend to associate the term “stepmother” or stepsister with the unfair treatment meted out to Cinderella of the fairy tales. “Interestingly, though the stereotype of the ‘wicked stepmother’ may be more widely known, it is the term ‘stepchild’ that is consistently used to represent a negative experience or situation” (Pasley, 20). Fairy tale stereotypes of the wicked stepmother only make a difficult role seem impossible. This myth, combines with the social expectations that women are more nurturing and effective with children, sets the stage for mothers to fail.Stepmothers may jump in too fast, especially those with no kids of their own. A stepmother may overhelm or scare stepchildren with the attention she gives them. She may refrain from enforcing family rules and discipline in fear of appearing too harsh. The following might be a plausible explanation of the horrible treatment of Cinderella by her stepmother or the alienation that Cinderella feels from her stepmother. In their book Stepfamilies: Myths and Realities (Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1984), John and Emily Fisher state that stepmothers have the most difficulty building a relationship with stepdaughters. There is generally less affection, less respect, and less acceptance in this relationship than in other stepfamily relationships. The daughter may resent the stepmother’s closeness with her father. This is especially true if the father and daughter had a strong relationship prior to the stepmother’s arrival. Attempts by the stepmother to fulfill her role in the stepfamily may be perceived by the stepdaughter as efforts to replace her mother. Stepmothers tend to hold onto the “wicked stepmother” myth longer than other family members
It may be impossible for Cinderella to have her storybook ending even if she does not get together with Prince Charming. It is possible for Cinderella and her stepmother to have a stable and healthy relationship after all. In Relative Strangers, William Beer states that there is a solution to the quagmire that stepfamilies are stuck in. He proposes a “stepfamily cycle” and identifies the steps necessary to forming a successful remarriage. The primary process thinking stage is dominant in the early stages of the second marriage and involves concepts and emotions such as fantasy, immersion and awareness. The secondary processes of the cycle are mobilization and action. The tertiary stages are contact and resolution. If the stepfamily undergoes this process together without breaking up, then there is hope for the stepfamily. In his book Step-fathering, Mark Bruce Rosin sums up the reason why these steps are present in the formation of a stepfamily and its unity. “This is a major fact of stepfamily life: that there are parents and stepparents. In learning to accept this fact, I’ve also come to see another reason why the word ‘stepfather’ is so appropriate for the position in which we men who marry women with childen find ourselves: because the process of becoming a stepfather happens in steps.” (Rosin 22)
The early stages explored in Beer’s stepfamily cycle involve the effects of unformed preconceptions and fog of love that clouds the harsh reality of an impending stepfamily. The fantasy phase involves the hopes, intentions and emotions that every individual brings to the stepfamily in the primary process. “The stepfamily’s history of loss endangers a distinct set of myths and dreams, which are in turn flavored by the fact that most people come to stepfamily living with only the experience of the biological family to draw upon.” (Beers 61). In his book Stepfathering, Mark Bruce Rosin conducted interviews with stepfathers like him and recounted them to his readers. “My interviews with other stepfathers have taught me that my misconceptions about stepfamily are extremely typical. As a recent stepfather with two biological children from a previous marriage and one stepchild from his new marriage reflected: “I, like most people, thought that the stepmarriage would be very much like the first marriage. It isn’t. It’s really a totally different experience” (Rosin 20). The new stepparent is attempting to don the role of an adult authority and there is extended pressure to fill the traditional role left vacant by the former biological parent. The remarried couple usually imagine themselves as healers, aiming to mend and reconstruct their family with the most optimistic approach. Or, the new stepparent may expect the children of their new spouse to take a passive role in the family. (Beers, 61).
The myths are debunked early on in the process of stepfamily development. The following example illustrates the vastness in the ocean between fantasy and reality. In his book, Stepfathering, Rosin recounts his experience with his girlfriend’s children who were only six and ten years old apiece. His girlfriend, Cynthia, had arranged for a time when she could discuss with her children her impending marriage to Rosin. “What does that mean?” Kevin, her son asked, his eyes already filling with tears. “It means we are lovers,” she replied. “What does that mean?” he asked with an edge. “It means we have a sexual relationship,: she said. “What does that mean?” he demanded, her son demanded, his voice growing louder and less steady. “It means we’re sleeping together,” she blurted out. I was upstairs working on my novel when suddenly I heard both boys crying and shrieking, “No! No! No!” (Rosin 16).
Thus, the primary process thinking is stage is in full swing as the stepparent immerses himself or herself the daily activities of the stepfamily. The children are hesitant to engage in day to day activities with the new stepparent. Repeated attempts by the biological parent to immerse the new stepparent in these activities result in miserable failure. Rosin provides the following account from a stepfather and his stepson, Sandy:
“Sandy was eleven when I first met him, so for him it was the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new era, an era of growing up. A lot of times at the beginning I noticed that when we were all together, he wouldn’t talk to me; he’d only talk to me through his mother and all the stories he’d tell were directed directly at her. And I had to interject myself, so to speak. There were times when that would happen and we’d have arguments; and I’d take it out on his mother and he’d take it out on me, because he and I weren’t talking to each other” (Rosin 37).
At this juncture, the negative misconceptions and isolation in the mind of the stepparent have replaced any positive preconceptions and hopes for a united family. The stepparent has the ability to move beyond the immersion stage. However, they need to eliminate the fantasy that their step-marriage would be very much like their first marriage. This entails moving past the primary process response of the stepfamily cycle after possessing sound awareness and acceptance of the fact that it is normal for stepparents to have different feelings towards stepchildren than they do with their own.
By encouraging objective interpretation and analysis of the family situation, the stepparent can employ secondary process thinking to advance the construction of the stepfamily. However, if the stepparent continues to remain disjointed by his or her initial emotional or idealistic response to the harsh realities of remarriage, the stepfamily is doomed for a spectacular failure.