Here are a couple favorite photographs from my youth. The first shows my sister Dee Dee and me with our father as we prepare to take a boat ride in Vancouver, British Columbia. The second is a family portrait from the year I turned 21—those golden days of longer hair and smaller waistlines.
These photographs represent cherished memories from a happy childhood. But what if my parents had divorced? Would I look at these old photos with happiness or with pain?
That was the theme of a recent New York Times article by Kristen M. Ploetz. Her parents divorced when she was 18, and even now at age 40 it’s difficult for her to look at old photographs.
All of the photographs from my entire childhood were taken while my parents were married. The lens through which we all viewed our lives together did not crack until I became an adult. Until that breaking point, there was happiness in the home. My parents loved each other and us, and you can see it in the yellowing photographs.
But something happened to those old photographs when my parents divorced: In an instant they became outdated and irrelevant.
In recent years I’ve been scanning many old family photos onto my computer and using them in books and videos celebrating our family. To me, these photos bring back happy memories of vacations, holidays, and family gatherings. But to Ploetz, old photos only remind her of a lost world.
It feels unfair that I cannot openly look back at those moments. Those photos memorialize my childhood, my history and my family, at least for a time. They are me, and yet I cannot showcase them without triggering pain for myself or someone else. I envy those who can hang photos in their living room because their parents’ marriage is still intact.
I wonder how many couples considering divorce underestimate the impact it will have on their children? Divorce damages so many things in children—their sense of security, of continuity, of connectedness, of self. It even changes the flavor of their memories. As novelist Pat Conroy once wrote, “Each divorce is the death of a small civilization.”
In her article, “It Hurts to Be a Child of Divorce,” Tricia Goyer writes from experience about our “universal exposure to divorce—not only with our parents, but in our marriages.” To Tricia, the profound effect of divorce should inspire a commitment to fight for marriage.
As people who understand the pain and struggle, it’s our job to help strengthen marriages—those around us and our own. Sure, you might think your friend has a good excuse for divorce, but don’t encourage it. Encourage forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. Pray. Pray hard.
Pray for the couples out there, and pray for their children. We’ve seen enough hurting kids grow into hurting adults.
And for those who are heading toward divorce, Goyer urges them to reconsider. “Love can be rekindled,” she writes. “The best thing you can do for yourself and for your children is to give your marriage a second chance.”
I’m happy to report that my parents, Ron and Cleve Boehi, will celebrate their 61st anniversary in two weeks. Their marriage has provided a strong foundation for my sister and me and for our children. And it has sweetened many memories.
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