As I’ve thought and read about the experiences of children of divorce, the important role of friends as substitute family seems to always emerge. In the American Girl doll series, the divorce doll, Julie Allbright, is one of the few dolls whose best friend, Ivy, is featured almost as prominently as Julie is. Julie finds respite in the traditions and stable domestic rituals of Ivy’s family. She finds that she is welcome there and in the absence, loss, and chaos of two parents trying to create new rituals for their separate worlds, Julie escapes to her friend’s world. We see that friends are a key element in a child of divorce’s journey of resilience. I’ve seen first-hand in church youth groups how your friends in youth group or at camp become an extended family, especially for children of divorce, who in joint custody situations are trying to make sense of two different moral and spiritual worlds while, as teenagers are developmentally wont to do, figure out where they fit in—what beliefs and expressions resonate with them, what do not, what gaps there are, what new expressions they want to try. As Elizabeth says in her book Between Two Worlds and states again in the accompanying documentary:
“After a divorce it’s no longer the parent’s job to run together the sharp edges of their two different worlds. Instead the rough edges of their different worlds run together in only one place: the inner life of the child. They feel and act like little adults.”
This last week, Pastor Jason Byassee writes of the band Mumford & Sons and their iconic “I Will Wait” video in this month’s issue of The Christian Century. I’ve written about the band before and adore them. I read with interest his reflection as our three-year-olds favorite song is this one—he will sing, echoing the insistent earnestness of the band, “I will wait FOR YOU…” At the close, he turns to me and says, “And I don’t like waiting.” As a three-year-old, he probably feels like half his life is waiting…waiting to get older, waiting for older siblings, waiting for help…waiting.
Byassee reflects on the band through the lens of friendship, friendship with the divine and friendship with others.
“One commentator pointed out the deep pathos in “I Will Wait.” Its lyrics are so simple as to be barely quotable here; the chorus repeats the title over and over again. (One critic complains that the band’s first album is so spiritually earnest that it “weeps holy water.”) But you can’t belt that line unless you’ve had someone fail to wait for you before. Unless you’ve been betrayed, left hanging, shut out—and you’re making a promise not to do that to someone else. It’s a song about friendship. And not much else is worth singing about with that kind of self-forgetful ecstasy.”
Reading his words was particularly poignant to me because I had just watched the Between Two Worlds documentary where Pastor Byassee is one of the children of divorce featured. He speaks thoughtfully about the legacy of divorce in his own life and he would be one of the outliers for whom divorce pushed him to become more connected to his faith. He has chosen more traditional expressions of faith, but in his columns for The Christian Century, where he tends to review pop culture, he resonates greatly with the “spiritual, but not religious” crowd and understands the attraction to be a “none.” His words about knowing what it is like to wait, reminded me of the powerful book by Dr. Evon Flesborg, The Switching Hour. She draws on countless interviews to show how a child of divorce is marked by years of waiting and preparing to switch back and forth between two worlds.
“I will wait for you…” A song of covenant that arises out of knowing what it’s like to wait. And who likes to wait? I close, repeating his thoughts:
“But you can’t belt that line unless you’ve had someone fail to wait for you before. Unless you’ve been betrayed, left hanging, shut out—and you’re making a promise not to do that to someone else. It’s a song about friendship. And not much else is worth singing about with that kind of self-forgetful ecstasy.”