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A New Kind of Taboo for Children


NC Family president John Rustin talks with Jennifer Johnson, associate director of the Ruth Institute, about the harms of divorce on children and adults, and how the issue of divorce is related to the debate over same-sex “marriage” and same-sex parent families.

Jennifer Johnson with The Ruth Institute

Jennifer Johnson with The Ruth Institute

“Family Policy Matters”
Transcript: A New Kind of Taboo for Children

INTRODUCTION:  Jennifer Johnston is associate director of the Ruth Institute, which is a global non-profit organization focused on preventing divorce and also helping the millions of people who have been harmed by it. Jennifer has contributed articles to The Christian Post, and The Federalist. She was recently invited to speak at the second annual conference of the International Children’s Rights Institute.

Jennifer is with us today to talk about some of the ways that divorce harms children and adults, and how the issue of divorce is connected to the current national debate over same-sex “marriage” and same-sex parent families. Jennifer, welcome to the program….

JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer, the main message at the Ruth Institute is that the Sexual Revolution, and in particular no-fault divorce, has literally harmed millions of people. Now I know that you have experienced some of these harms yourself firsthand as a child of divorce. What are some of the ways, for the benefit of our listeners, that divorce causes lifelong suffering, well into adulthood? And again I know that this is something that the Ruth Institute has spent years researching and looking into.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: There’s a number of ways that divorce causes lifelong suffering for the person who has to live under it. I think one of the first things I think that it is helpful for people to understand is that there are layers of complications for the child of divorce that they have to live under, and the layers are actually separate from one another, and they can build on one another depending on the choices that their parents make after the divorce. So, for example, I put up an image on our Ruth Institute Facebook page called “Families are Complicated,” where I briefly outline a few of these layers. The first layer is at the bottom and that’s the divorce itself. The parents get divorced which is obviously a painful shock to the child, but it’s also a disruption of the child’s daily life. The child now has two very different homes, two very different routines in those homes. And frankly, it’s a lifestyle that no divorcing adult would ever accept because it’s so disruptive. Imagine a judge coming in and saying, “Okay, the kids are going to stay in the home, and you adults go and rent an apartment, and you don’t have to live there together, but one of you will live in the apartment, and the other one will live in the home with the child. And you adults can be the one who go back and forth every week.” Imagine living like that as an adult! You can see how disruptive it is, especially if it’s, say, across state lines, across county lines, you can imagine how disruptive that would be. That’s what we expect children of divorce to live under, and personally, I think it’s cruel to expect a person to live that way. So that’s just the first layer of complication. Then, let’s say that one or both people remarry, so now each spouse, each parent, is now spending more time with the new spouse than they are with their own child. That’s another layer of pain that gets added on on top of the first one. Then another layer is, now we have potentially stepchildren that the new spouse is bringing into the relationship and maybe they’re also doing the back and forth with their original other parent. Perhaps one or both of the child’s parents have a new child, so now there’s a new intact family that they’ve created for the new child, while the older child is living under a disruptive family structure. And perhaps the parents will want to go through divorces again, and the whole cycle continues. So you can see that there’s these layers that just build up and up and up, and it’s all based on these adults having all these choices and freedom that they feel like they’re taking advantage of.

JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer you’ve written that children not raised by their married, biological parents are being subjected to what you refer to as a “new kind of taboo.” Explain more for us, if you would, what you mean, and give us some examples of this taboo?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Our culture has undergone quite a bit of change in how we view sex and sexual activity, sexual liberation, reproductive freedom, marriage equality, there’s all these things that people have embraced, so that they can have more freedom in their life. And I think that when all these changes first started coming down the pike in the 60’s and 70’s, the people who were really excited about these changes perhaps thought that they were getting rid of old taboos. These old taboos about adultery and remarriage, and all these things, we’re just going to get rid of those taboos. Well, I don’t think the taboos actually went away; I think they just shifted to a different realm, that’s the argument that I make. So, when you’re a child who has to live under those choices that your parents are making, you are expected to be quiet about it, you’re not allowed to speak out about it, you’re not allowed to express your pain about it, at least you’re not encouraged to. In fact you’re probably expected to endorse these choices that your parents have made, even though it’s causing you a tremendous amount of pain. So that’s what I call the new taboo, and as far as the people who live under it, obviously we have children of divorce, children of unmarried parents, donor-conceived children, children who live in a single-parent-by-choice household. So, I think any of those are expected to just be quiet. If you don’t like what your parent’s choices are about their sex lives or their marriage choices, too bad, you have to stay silent.

JOHN RUSTIN: What about children who live in a same-sex “marriage” situation. Do you believe that the legalization of same-sex marriage in our country has exacerbated this taboo for children who are raised outside of the married, biological parent structure?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: There’s no question in my mind that it’s added a whole new set of children who have to keep silent about the sexual choices of the custodial adults in their lives. So yeah, it’s added a whole new round of people who live under the new taboo, for sure.

JOHN RUSTIN: Not just that situation but all the situations that you describe can put a tremendous amount of pressure on those children, and as you talked about earlier that certainly has to just build on the layers and layers of potential of hurt, harm, questions about confidence, all those types of things in those, in the lives of those children.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Right, absolutely, definitely.

JOHN RUSTIN: Jennifer, what are some of the ways that same-sex “marriage” and parenting are related to the issue of divorce or single parenting, and why should this connection matter as we look at the future of the American family in our nation?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: There are structural similarities between divorce and single parenting, and same-sex parenting, but before we talk about those I think that it is important to consider the role of the custodial parent in a single-parent household. So did the custodial parent actually deliberately create a single-parent household, was that their objective? Or, are they just the victim of maybe a sad circumstance. So for example, did the other spouse die? I would separate a single parent who has experienced a sad circumstance in their life from a single parent who created that environment by choice. For example, if you have women who used a sperm donor, and she’s deliberately choosing to raise a child on her own. To me, that’s not the same type of an intent as the mother’s whose husband has died. Now, from the child’s point of view, I argue that same-sex marriage and single parenting are structurally similar because we see that the opposite-sex parent is not in the picture. So, there’s a lack of what I call, a “biological sex diversity” in the home, [where] you don’t have a mom and a dad in the home in both of those instances. So, I think that they are structurally similar. That’s my argument, anyway.

JOHN RUSTIN: That seems to make a lot of sense, and we’ve talked about for years and years—and certainly folks have recognized it for longer than that—of the complementary nature of a man and a women coming together in that marital relationship, and by having a same-sex couple that the child is automatically deprived of either mother or of a father, and men and women are different, they’re not the same and they bring different things to those relationships…

Jennifer, do you believe that advocates of traditional marriage have really not done a great job of communicating the connection between same-sex “marriage” and families of divorce or single parents who have chosen that lifestyle for themselves and their children?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: I wish I had a real definitive answer, but I don’t. I do have some things that I have wondered about. The first thing that I’ve wondered is that it seems to me that a lot of the prominent marriage defenders, who are doing a fabulous job defending marriage, they themselves did not have to live under a divorced household. So I don’t think that they really can appreciate how difficult it is for a child of divorce to live under all the complications that come about as a result. So I think that they just tend to downplay it because they don’t’ have any personal experience. The second reason is perhaps people who believe in marriage between a man and a woman, they may be divorced themselves, they may be remarried, they may be dealing with step children, they maybe have created an intact family for new children, but they have older children who are doing the back and forth thing. So maybe, [and] I don’t know, again this is purely speculation, but I wonder maybe they feel guilty, maybe that’s why they don’t talk about it because they have a little bit of guilt on their conscience and so they’re not willing to bring it up, and say, “You know what, yeah, I did this to my child, and I need to somehow I need to somehow fix it or at least address it.”

JOHN RUSTIN: That makes sense. Jennifer, I know that the Ruth Institute recently launched a new initiative that is aimed at reaching what you refer to as “the 12 survivors of the sexual revolution,” including adult children of divorce. Tell us a little bit about that initiative, and what you intend to do with it.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: We’re really excited about this because what we want to do is to help people connect the dots between all these cultural changes in our sexual mores, and a lot of pain and suffering that people are enduring today. So, essentially what we did is we created a chart that lists what we call “the 12 survivors of the sexual revolution,” so there’s all different types of people on that chart. There’s the children of divorce, children of unmarried parents, donor-conceived children, people who are reluctantly divorced against their will. And we have a whole slew of these so-called survivors, and the common thread is the cultural change in our idea of sex and reproduction. And we just want to draw attention to the fact that those changes were not harmless. They created a lot of people who are hurting in its wake, so that’s what we’re doing with that initiative.

JOHN RUSTIN: And that is called the Ruth Refuge, is that correct?

JENNIFER JOHNSON: Yes, Ruth Institute Refuge, and people can go and sign up and basically it’s a safe space so that people who have had to live under some of these painful situations, or perhaps they’ve caused the situation and now they see what they’ve done and they want to, they want to talk about it and they want to figure out how to make things better, we’ve created a safe space for these people. We want to just affirm people that there’s nothing wrong with hurt as a result of all of these changes that have come down in the last 40 years.

JOHN RUSTIN: That sounds like a great resource and a great opportunity for people to share their stories, and to receive healing and understanding and support, I expect, from others, which is wonderful.

Jennifer, unfortunately we we are nearly out of time for this week, but before we go I definitely want to give you an opportunity to tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about the Ruth Institute, and this new initiative Ruth Refuge.

JENNIFER JOHNSON: People can go to our website which is and you click on the link that says “Ruth Refuge” and that will take you to the link where you need to go to sign up. We also are on Facebook just, we’d love to have more followers there, we have a lot of interesting stuff going on there that doesn’t necessarily show up on our website. So any of those places are great ways to kind of connect with us and we would sure appreciate some of your listeners come and do that.

JOHN RUSTIN: I want to encourage them to avail themselves of those resources, and that’s And with that Jennifer Johnson, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of what we know is a very busy schedule to talk with us today, and for your great work at the Ruth Institute.

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