The Pain of Post-Divorce Parenting
Easing the Pain
Feb. 26, 2001 -- It's 9:30 on a Saturday morning, and it's
painfully obvious that most of the 20 people sitting in the bright orange
chairs of the cavernous jury room at the Multnomah County Courthouse in
Portland, Ore., would rather be anywhere but here. The crossed arms and hostile
body language of many of the seven men and 13 women says it all -- I'm only
here because I have to be.
This morning, they are sitting in a three-hour parenting class that the state of
Oregon requires every divorcing couple with children to attend before their
divorce can become final. Three couples attend together; the rest are solo.
Some of those here are leaving their marriages. Some have been left. Still
others have mutually agreed to the split. The common thread: They all have
children under age 18.
Leading the class are Judith Swinney, an attorney who
specializes in parenting issues, and Mark Harwood, a divorced dad who works
with juvenile offenders. Swinney begins: "Did you know that 50% of all
first marriages end in divorce?" A few heads nod at the oft-heard
statistic. "And that 60% to 75% of second marriages do as well? Or that
over one million children are affected by divorce each year, and as many as
half of them will suffer long-term emotional problems?" A few arms unfold;
some people lean forward to listen. Then Harwood adds how more often than not,
the juvenile offenders he sees are kids of divorce. These are some pretty grim
statistics to hear on a Saturday morning. Then, offering a glimmer of hope,
Harwood says, "But it doesn't have to be that way.