Leila Miller talks about her new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Today, we are going to discuss an issue that I expect almost all of our listeners have been affected by at some point in their lives and that’s the issue of divorce. It’s not difficult to understand the difficulties and impacts divorce has on those who are going through it, but what about the long-term implications of divorce, especially on the children of divorce once they become adults?
Our guest today is Leila Miller, a wife of 27 years, a mother to eight children and a grandmother, who has recently used her writing skills to give a voice to 70 adults, most of whom had parents who divorced when they were young. Not surprisingly, these individuals and others like them often feel as though their stories and perspectives are lost in the conversation about marriage and divorce in America. Leila is here today to discuss what we can learn from the stories that she tells in her new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak.
Leila Miller, I want to welcome you to Family Policy Matters, it’s great to have you on the show.
LEILA MILLER: Thank you John. I’m so glad to be here.
JOHN RUSTIN: Leila, you readily admit that you do not have firsthand experience with divorce, so that does beg the question, why did you decide to write a book about divorce and particularly one that shares a perspective on divorce from the viewpoint of adults who lived through divorce?
LEILA MILLER: It’s a great question. I’ve been writing about and talking about marriage and family for probably close to a quarter century now, and while I, kind of, would maybe brush over the issue of divorce—You know, “It’s bad. We don’t like it.” It never really was on my radar. So, it’s kind of shocking to me that it even became a topic. And the reason it did was because I have a close personal friend who, over the years—and she’s in her 40s and she’s married and has six kids—but she would start, just in the course of regular family or friendly conversations, she’d start to say some things that I was intrigued about: Complications in her life such as, things with her stepmother or things that were happening with her dad, and her mom who was on her third marriage or something like that and how it was still affecting her and even affecting the grandkids. After a while I started to tell her—her name’s Alicia, I said, “Alicia, you may need to write this down. This is stuff I don’t understand—I don’t even know about. So, that’s kind of the catalyst that got me into this.
JOHN RUSTIN: And so you compiled stories from quite a few adults who had gone through divorce experiences, either during their youth or maybe a little bit later in life?
LEILA MILLER: Yes, I put the word out very casually on my Facebook page, and had a blog, and I got a lot of response from people. I wanted their feelings and experiences for what they’d gone through. In the first day or two I got about 100 people and they wanted to talk. And so I quickly just whipped up off the top of my head these eight questions I thought would be interesting to know about, and wow! What I got back was just shocking to me and I knew I had to compile it and put it out there somehow.
JOHN RUSTIN: You talk about long-term experiences, and that’s, I’m sure, a lot of what was captured in this book. Talk a little bit more about that. Help us understand what you learned and discovered about the long-term effects that divorce has on these children who grew up in households where their parents divorced, and then they carried that divorce and the effects of that divorce into adulthood.
LEILA MILLER: It’s on a number of fronts. Number one, a lot of them carry these insecurities and this feeling that there’s really nothing stable or that could stay stable. They carry that into their relationships throughout their young adulthood and then even into their marriages—those who went ahead and were brave enough to get married. And even some of the people who are married to really wonderful spouses, they even don’t necessarily tell their spouses about this, but they have this guillotine hanging over their head wondering in fear when this will all end. And so like one lady said for years, she would squirrel away money in her sock drawer even though her husband’s amazing and would never leave, but she kept thinking what would it be like when I’ve got to do the custody issues. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got enough money. So that kind of hung with her. Several people discussed things like that. People discussed that, even into their 40s and 50s, and one lady’s in her 60s, there’s no real home. It’s all these complications that they’re managing even now between different layers of family, they’re still navigating that even into their 50s and 60s. It kind of boggled my mind. I realized how I walk around unencumbered and I don’t have a complicated life in the sense that they do, and I never realized that. So it’s amazing, shocking.
JOHN RUSTIN: You touched on something I want to explore a little bit. That’s the issue of the impact of divorce and the destruction of a family on matters related to faith, and how individuals, who go through a divorce when they’re young, really relate to God. And did you see that this was a common thread through many of the individuals that you talked with for this book? Did divorce have an impact on their faith?
LEILA MILLER: Yes. And there were varying degrees of religiosity or faith in their childhood. Some weren’t raised with any faith and some were raised by faithful, very Christian households. I will say that a lot of them really got hit with their relationship with God the Father, specifically, if a father was the one who broke the family. Now we have, obviously, some stories in the book where it’s the mother who abandoned the family or divorced. But the image—especially for the boys too—the image of God the Father, you tend to look at your father as a child and that’s kind of how you get your first understanding of who God is. And so when that takes a hit, it’s huge: so, lots of depression, lots of falling away from the faith. We have some stories of the families where the siblings, to this day, a lot of their siblings have not come back to God at all. They’re still wandering; They have drug addictions; There’s quite a few suicides for siblings. So a lot of the people in the book still have or have rediscovered their faith. But there’s just a lot of collateral damage, as far as their faith goes and their siblings. Even the parents who divorce, it’s really devastating. So, that needs its own healing once a marriage falls apart.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thanks for sharing that. I know that those are issues that are fundamental to who we are and that image of the human father kind of bearing an impression of what someone perceives their Godly father to be. It’s profound and I think, as a father myself, I know I speak for many out there who are challenged by that and want to present as good an image as we can in order to exemplify God the Father to the degree that we’re humanly possible, or able to do that. Now Leila, did you experience any situations when divorce was actually a positive thing? I suspect in circumstances where there may have been physical abuse or infidelity or constant fighting in the home, things like that, you know… Certainly, there are circumstances where divorce is necessary. What did you see with respect to the folks that you spoke with about that?
LEILA MILLER: Yes, I saw—and again, I never cherry-picked any of the answers. So, we do have quite a few who came from abusive situations and the sentiment there is there a few of the participants said that it was. They were very grateful, first of all, to get out of the abuse, for example. Thank yous: I want to thank my mom for getting me safe and getting me out of the abuse. In one case it was the mother who was the abusive one and the father was the one who needed to get the kids out. But I wouldn’t characterize—and I don’t think any of them would characterize—it as the divorce was positive. What they would say is that it was a relief. And I think someone used the term and I’ll use the term, it’s a relief valve. So when you can get out of that type of abuse and suffering, there is a feeling of obviously a release valve. And they need to get out, they need to get away from that. What’s interesting is that a lot of them describe this—and also privately to me too, because I’ve been in contact with them since the book’s publication— but it’s still like an amputation in the sense that, yes, you may have had to sever a limb but you’re still walking around with damage. It’s never what it should have been, what God intended it to be. So, there’s always a wound of some sort. Now sometimes that amputation is necessary. What I’ve discovered—because again this wasn’t my issue before—but what I’ve discovered is that even with those issues, we have to acknowledge that there’s still a loss, that there’s still pain. And that’s why the book is called, Primal Loss, because truly how God created it is, every child is born to the union of his mother and his father. And when that is broken apart for whatever reason, and it’s either death or sin, to have a tragedy for the child no matter what, even if it’s necessary to get that child out. So, that’s really important just that acknowledgement. That’s why I have an issue with celebration of divorce: parties, fun, “Isn’t this great?!” No, no. It’s never great. It’s always a tragedy of some sort.
JOHN RUSTIN: Leila, one of the final chapters in the book contains stories of success, hope, and redemption of marriages that were at the brink of divorce and somehow survived. Give us an example of one of these stories that gives you hope and that may give hope to some of our listeners who may themselves be facing a divorce situation, or are trying to counsel and reach out in love to a family member or a loved one who is going through divorce themselves.
LEILA MILLER: That’s something many people have said that’s their favorite chapter of the book: the stories of hope. And they’re really dire situations where either the parents persevered, or the people who wrote to me—these are not the 70, this is a whole different bunch of people who had success stories or hope about on the edge marriage. And the one that always sticks out to me, and I don’t know why, is a woman who is an adult who talks about how for the majority of her parents’ marriage, it was rough. It was very rough. He was an alcoholic. He had left the practice of his faith for 35 years. He was not a good role model. He was not a great father. She even thought, growing up, “Gosh, they should be divorced. This is ridiculous.” Toward the end of his life… Her mother just was very faithful. She was very faithful. She was “No, this is my husband. This is my family. I made a vow.” The children watched this. At the very end of his life, he got sick. He came back to God at the end, and at the end, literally his last hours, they spent just the immediate family. They spent those hours together. And she said it was the most sacred holy kind of time and she remembers just being overwhelmed with the feeling she’ll never forget of gratitude, of having her family together at her father’s last breath where they got to tell each other they loved each other and she just was so grateful. She envisioned what it could have been, with stepmothers, step half brothers and half sisters and all the different people fighting over who’s supposed to be there and whose not. She was so grateful. She paints the most beautiful scene. It was all worth it because our family, in that little holy space when he went back to God. It was a beautiful moment and she just had tears, crying. And so there are a few of those types of stories but that one just stuck out to me: The preciousness of those last years and then those last hours. The long view of things. It’s very beautiful.
JOHN RUSTIN: We definitely need to take the long view of things because that’s what really matters. And I think you chronicled that so well in this book, that divorce is not just between two individuals that may be going through a rough patch in a relationship but it has profound implications on many and probably far beyond what is readily evident at that time.
Unfortunately Leila, we’re just about out of time for this show. But I want to give you an opportunity, before we leave, to let our listeners know where they can go to get a copy of your new book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak?
LEILA MILLER: Sure. They can go to Amazon.com and it’s available there, both in the paperback and the e-book Kindle format. I think Barnesandnoble.com also has that.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great. I want to encourage our listeners, especially if you maybe dealing with a divorce situation yourself or have a loved one who does, avail your self of this book and be encouraged by it, learn from it, and just take advantage of the resource that it is. I certainly expect that it can help you and help those that you love.
And with that, Leila Miller, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters and for bringing greater attention to the impact that divorce has on our culture and on those who we love.
LEILA MILLER: Thank you John. It’s been a pleasure.
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