Divorce, Families and Emotion Work
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Divorce, Families and Emotion Work

'Only Death Will Make Us Part'

Elena Moore

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eBook - ePub

Divorce, Families and Emotion Work

'Only Death Will Make Us Part'

Elena Moore

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About This Book

"This book is a carefully researched, clearly written, very important contribution to ourunderstanding of divorce."—Arlie Hochschild, University of California, USA

"This rich, evidence-informed narrative provides a frank, 'up close and personal' portrait ofthe aftermath of marriage dissolution."— Mary Corcoran, Maynooth University, Ireland

"Moore throws a welcome light on the moral identities and gendered inequalities ofparenting after separation."— Rosalind Edwards, University of Southampton, UK

This book focuses on parental commitment to family life after divorce, in contrast to its common perception as an irrevocable breaking up of the family unit, which is often perpetuated by representations from popular culture and the media. In the first detailed review of emotions and emotion work undertaken by divorced parents, the author sheds light on how parents manage feelings of guilt, fear, on-going anger and everyday unhappiness in the course of family life post-divorce. Moore demonstrates how the emotional dimension of divorce is shaped by societal and structural factors and requires parents to undertake considerable emotion work in the creation of new moral identities. The book points to the often gendered responsibilities for sustaining family lives post separation, and how these reflect extensive inequalities in family practices. The author concludes that divorce is not dangerous for society; it is not a social evil or a demonstration of the rise of selfish individualism, and that divorcees remain committed to former partners and children long after divorce.

This book will be of interest to scholars and students in the areas of Sociology, Psychology, Family Studies, Social Policy, Social Work and Law.

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© The Author(s) 2016
Elena MooreDivorce, Families and Emotion WorkPalgrave Macmillan Studies in Family and Intimate Life10.1057/978-1-137-43822-5_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Elena Moore1
South Africa, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
End Abstract
In 2013 The Guardian newspaper featured an article about a separated couple who co-resided when the former husband became ill and the former wife, Sara Clethero, took care of him in her home (Moorhead 2013). The headline depicted the relationship as an unusual marriage. There are many interpretations as to what was unusual about the marriage. First, Sara was 40 years younger than her husband, John Challenor. Second, John was a Catholic celibate priest when they met. Third, and this is the unusual aspect of the relationship on which the article focuses, the couple had been separated for 25 years when Sara welcomed John into her house and organised care for him. At this stage he was 90 and had a degenerative condition related to Parkinson’s. In responding to the ‘unusualness’ of the relationship, Sara asserted the following: ‘I’m simply not prepared to be defined by a so-called broken marriage. Our relationship is much more complex. And when he needs me—and when I need him, because these things are far from simple on either side, we’re still there for one another.’ In particular, Sara commented that helping her ex-husband is also helping her daughter, who would otherwise, as an only child, be responsible for his care.
The story is an example of how a separated couple stayed connected throughout the 25-year separation period and continued to depend on each other for support at various times throughout and beyond the period of separation. This is not the usual story you hear about divorce in the media. In fact, media reports about divorce tend to focus on the ways in which divorce is destroying families and marriages. In our everyday understanding, ‘divorce’ tends to implicate endings, dissolution and the termination of relationships. But this is not the stories of divorced parents that were shared with me, who explained how after many years they remain deeply connected to each other, albeit at a distance. This book is about the connected lives of divorcees. Throughout this book I will share with you the stories that don’t reach the headlines. I will share with you how families continue despite divorce.
This book is based on a longitudinal qualitative study of family practices post separation in Ireland. The main body of the research was based on qualitative interviews with a sample of 39 separated parents and 10 family lawyers in 2008, and follow-up work with 19 parents in 2014. The project started in 2006 as a doctoral study on the negotiation of family practices upon separation. After I had written up the findings in 2010, I was uneasy about the way in which I had attended to the emotional dimension of divorce and how it had been left out of the ways in which it shaped the negotiations of family practices. Moreover, the doctoral study had captured only a slice of the experience of divorce. Most specifically it failed to conceptualise divorce as a process and get an overview of the changes over time. In order to say something more definitive about changing family practices upon divorce, I wanted to return to the parents to see how they were getting on six years later. In 2014 I spoke with half of the participants to get an update.
At the time, research on post-divorce families had focused primarily on the instrumental aspects of relationships, such as parenting and financial arrangements. Although these studies were fruitful and have contributed to policy and practice, they neglected the expressive or emotional aspects that are key elements of post-divorce everyday family practices. The ideas for this book have been with me for a long time—ideas that would demonstrate how divorced parents work and produce family life. Much of what I present here will be deeply familiar to divorcees. The exploration of how much work is required to remain connected presents a deeper understanding of the work that is often overlooked when divorcees are depicted as reckless and selfish. The debates around individualisation and democratic relationships argue that people are more autonomous and independent, which leads to a devaluation of commitment and love. With this book I challenge the debate by arguing that commitment to parenting and family life is harder to abdicate upon divorce, given the level of connectedness (practical and emotional) that remains in a ‘pro-contact’ legal context. The findings presented here can be used to refute the theory that divorce points to a lack of commitment.
All of the divorcees I spoke to in 2008 and again in 2014 remained connected to their former spouses in a variety of ways that were not always related to shared finances or parenting. Similar to the case featured in The Guardian, one divorcee, Paula, wondered whether she should care for her ex-husband (whom she had separated from ten years before) after he had had an operation.1 She raised the idea with her sisters and discussed the right thing to do in this situation. This was a moral question. It was about what is morally permissible, not what is practically or legally possible. It arises because there are limits on what divorcees are expected to do for each other. It is not about rights or legal responsibilities; it is about obligations and expectations. Paula and her former husband did not get on; in fact, they had been embroiled in ongoing conflict since they had separated. Another participant, Sally, was not sure whether she should attend the funeral of her former mother-in-law. It had been ten years since the couple had separated and they were not on speaking terms. The four adult children attended the funeral, and Sally empathised with the former spouse and decided to attend the funeral to show her support. She enquired about the arrangements through her ex-husband’s family. The former husband did not expect to see Sally at the funeral but she explained that it was the first time they had all ‘got along’ in almost ten years. Whether or not separated spouses supported their former spouses is not the main issue. The central issue is that the divorcees considered the needs of their former spouse even ten years post separation, and even in cases were the former couple did not get along.

The Context: Commitment and Change

Marriage rates are falling; divorce rates are increasing; the number of babies born out of wedlock is increasing. Families are in a state of change and the interiority of family lives is also changing as more mothers are employed and more fathers are spending longer amounts of time in the caring role. Some see these changes as detrimental to the family, some see them as an opportunity for greater gender equality, and many worry about the commitment to relationships as people move through marriage, blended families, non-resident partners and new kin. This book offers a lens through which to explore divorced families in the context of contemporary social change and social life. Questions about the nature of commitment, the form of conflict and a sense of unpredictability characterise patterns of interaction in contemporary social relationships. Our lives, and not least changing family relationships, are inextricably linked to other changes in the social world, which tell us something about individualisation and fluidity in contemporary societies. In the stories that people tell of their experiences, we hear accounts of ongoing commitment, gender imbalances and embeddedness in relationships that are also subject to changing developments and circumstances: changes in unemployment, ill health, childcare issues and financial insecurity.
Contemporary policy, law and research evidence now indicates a far greater level of post-divorce parental involvement. It is the focus on both parents that constitutes a new approach to family law in most countries. But can two parents in a conflicted relationship share parenting? What does it take? The study described in this book asked the participants how they remained involved in family life and how they experienced post-divorce family life at a time of changing gender relations and insecure economic contexts. In reality, not all members of the intact family hold the same shared commitments and interests post divorce, and such differences often highlight inequalities. The narratives of the participants in the study illustrate the various ways in which post-separated life and emotional labour were being experienced by the different family members involved, and the way in which emotions are experienced across gendered, generation- and class-related differences in the post-divorce family.
As one of the last countries to legalise divorce, at a time when most Western countries had been enjoying at least 20–30 years of divorce, just over half of the population in Ireland at the time (in 1995) believed that it was appropriate to remove the ban. A highly restrictive legislation, which theoretically ties parents to each other well beyond a marriage breakdown, was put in place. Divorce remains one of the main areas of changing family patterns where Irish families and Ireland remain exceptional. During the first half of the twentieth century, Irish families were typically portrayed as being very stable, patriarchal, stem-extended and large (Seward et al. 2005). However, as I describe in more detail in Chap. 2, marriage rates are decreasing, extramarital births are rising and female labour force participation is increasing in line with the European Union (EU) average. Marriage rates are now in line with most European countries. Attitudes towards marriage have also changed radically. Women are entering the workforce at similar levels to much of Europe. These changes have radically shifted the ways in which men and women relate. There has been an economic boom and bust, and a significant decline in the influence of the Catholic Church on family values. Essentially, there appears to be greater acceptance of a diversity of families, with legalisation on same-sex marriage in 2015. However, the divorce rate remains fairly low compared with that of other EU states and disapproval of divorce remains. This is one of the reasons why Ireland makes an interesting case study, as a country that is witnessing similar demographic trends to much of Europe but nonetheless holds on to traditional beliefs when it comes to marital breakdown. So how have the interiority of families and familial relationships changed over the post-1995 period? If the structures of families are diversifying, do divorcing couples and families manage the transition to post-divorce family life with greater ease?
While the empirical data on which this book draws are from Ireland, this is not just a story about that country. The assumption of universal individualisation and declining commitment to family life, while it may hold for some individuals in some societies, does not stand up to closer inspection. For divorcees in Ireland the specific, traditional, sociocultural and restrictive legal context of divorce frames the level of commitment and emotion work that post-divorce family life requires. Drawing on this, the analysis extracts more general ideas concerning emotion work and commitment, taking its conclusions beyond the specifics of the local context.

Conceptual Orientation

This book draws on several intellectual traditions within sociology, primarily the sociology of gender, emotions and the sociology of personal life. It is particularly concerned with the practices of divorcees, the day-to-day conduct of this group of contemporary divorcees. Parents don’t only make arrangements post separation because it’s a fair exchange or it is financially and practically viable; they also negotiate their responsibilities in varied ways by taking into account the position of others. While Smart and Neale (1999) discussed forms of related reasoning (ethics of care, justice or redistribution) when parents make moral choices about competing commitments, interests and loyalties, their work did not focus on emotions. Fevre and Bancroft (2010, p.70) explain that
Emotion is what ties you together when you are not weighing what’s in your interests, or what’s fair, or when you’re being made to do things by other people, either because it’s your duty or because you’re being forced into it, or tricked into it … When people interact, emotional relationships are created. This emotional stuff is the underpinning of mutual understandings.
I use the concept of relatedness (Mason 2004) and the connectedness thesis (Smart 2007) to explore the relational and emotional dimensions of relationships and families that are part of everyday life. Emotions and the work involved in managing emotions are central components of the connectedness thesis because they are ‘the invisible knots that tie us together’ (Fevre and Bancroft 2010). Barbalet (2001, p.133) stated that ‘unlike mere feeling and sensation, emotion has direction and therefore an object’. Emotions situate actors in their relations with others. Divorcees are moved in their interactions with others by their emotions, and their emotions lead them to evaluate and change the course of their conduct in the relationships and situations they face. It is difficult to conceive of a divorcee’s engagement with post-separated financial arrangements except through their emotional assessment of where they stand and their emotional appraisal of a desirable direction in which the situation might be taken.
Much of the research on personal relationships and divorce specifically (with some exceptions, such as Sclater and Piper 1999) has overlooked the role of emotions. This book explores the lived experience and social relational dimension of emotion, including the role played by gender and power relations in emotional experience, and it incorporates a relational understanding as mapped out by Smart (2007, p.58) and Burkitt (2014, p.135). Although ending a marriage may be a very personal choice, the emotional experience encountered cannot be separated from the history of the relationship, or the social, economic and cultural context in which it occurs. It is therefore important to examine how the emotions experienced by divorcees tell us something about the prevailing ideology and framing rules at a specific time and place.2

The Study

This book presents the stories and accounts of divorce for a sample of 39 divorced parents. The participants included 18 fathers and 21 mothers. The sample was sought from several family law solicitors, those who worked with private and legal aid clients. Unfortunately this strategy was largely unproductive in recruiting separated parents from lower socioeconomic households, so the sample comprises middle-class white parents. The age of the respondents was broad-ranging: from mid-30s to mid-50s. Of the 39 parents, 6 resided in rural communities (population ≤ 5000) and 33 were suburban dwellers. Three-quarters of the respondents had been married for 10–20 years (22 of 29 respondents), while just less than a fifth of marriages had lasted less than ten years. The vast majority of men and women had obtained at least a tertiary education, with many parents having obtained postgraduate qualifications. Moreover, many of the parents were professionals and the vast majority were employed. The employment status of most mothers remained unchanged following the separation. The sample of mothers included a sizeable number of women who were dependent wives (fully or partially) during the marriage and continued to be financially dependent following the separation.
I took a largely open-ended, e...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Frontmatter
  3. 1. Introduction
  4. 2. Changing Families and Regulating Change in Family Life
  5. 3. Understanding Families and Personal Relationships
  6. 4. Egalitarians, Guilt and Shame
  7. 5. Dependants: Living Between Fear and Freedom
  8. 6. Deserted Wives, Excluded Fathers and Everyday Unhappiness
  9. 7. Conflicted Couples, Enduring Conflict and Getting Even
  10. 8. Divorce and Time
  11. 9. Connected Lives
  12. Backmatter