ROSE NOLEN: More and more families ending up in disarray

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Broken families are extremely difficult to mend. Most people realize this, and I think that’s why so many unhappy couples remain together rather than split the family. A former neighbor was an unwilling victim of one of these tragedies, and, following years of professional help, she was able to report recently that she was finally able to put it all behind her.

This is an issue that needs to be discussed because of the way we live today, when more and more individuals are being caught up in these scenarios. Teenage pregnancies often set the stage for this particular dilemma.

Mary was the product of a teenage pregnancy. Her mother was a 16-year-old junior in high school when Mary was born. Like many teenagers, Mary’s mother was not prepared for motherhood. But her parents both had strongly opposed abortion and insisted that Mary marry the baby’s father. The marriage lasted less than a year, and Mary’s grandmother took over babysitting duties while Mary’s mother finished school and found a job. By the time Mary was ready for school, her mother had remarried and was ready to assume responsibility for the child’s upbringing.

Mary’s grandparents, however, disapproved of their daughter’s new husband and were reluctant to turn over custody of Mary to her mother and her mother’s new husband. Things went from bad to worse, and within a few months the grandparents sued for full custody of the little girl. The strain of the lawsuit wreaked havoc on her mother’s new marriage, and the couple broke up. The grandparents gained custody of Mary, and the family was embroiled in a family feud that lasted until Mary finished college and moved to another city.

Mary’s case is typical of the situation facing many families. It’s quite common these days for families to break up over differences in how children should be brought up. With so many parents abusing drugs and alcohol, the cases of neglect and abuse of children have escalated. Often, family members concerned about the welfare of children who are frequently left alone or placed in harm’s way feel that they must intervene on the children’s behalf. On other occasions, grandparents have become so attached to their grandchildren that if a parent threatens to move the children — or in some cases restrict the grandparents' visitation rights — confrontations develop that sometimes end up in court.

There are many family members who have had to assume custody of kids when one or both of the parents have been put in jail. Sometimes these family members fight having to see the children return to what they consider unstable households.

For some, these hurts never go away. I personally know families who haven’t spoken to each other for decades. They avoid any gathering where they might encounter an unfriendly family member. For others, no matter how deeply felt the issue may have been at the time, it has lost a lot of its luster in retrospect. The problem then, of course, is that not everyone involved has a forgiving nature.

Parting ways, for whatever reason, with loved ones is a costly decision. Even when it’s the right thing to do, you don’t get to land home free. The ties do in fact bind in ways both visible and invisible.

Those families who have survived the rough waves of the seas of life have reasons to be grateful. Those of us who have been around awhile have learned and will usually testify openly to the fact that the shared battles are the easiest to fight.

But in reality, it’s not always possible, in every case, for families to stay on the same page. In the case of a family feud, all any of us can do is hope that love is truly the strongest force in the universe and that it will find its own way.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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