According to one source, every 13 seconds someone in the United States files for divorce.1 Though the divorce rate has been declining for years, about 50% of children will still see their parents getting divorced in their lifetime.2 These statistics are devastating and should be cause for lament. Of course, the effect on the man and woman is terrible, but children also experience great pain, confusion, and heartache when their parents separate.
While giving music lessons to a young boy, musical artist James TW found out that the boy’s parents were getting a divorce. The boy did not yet know about it, so James wrote a song to try to help the boy understand what was going on. The song and the accompanying music video are heartbreaking and show the pain that divorce causes. With so many people getting divorced, it’s easy to see how this song peaked at 28 on the Billboard Adult Pop Songs chart.
The video opens with a warm scene: father and son enjoying a game of basketball. But the lyrics in the background leave us in doubt. The boy is being reprimanded because he’s been unreachable at school, and presumably getting into a lot of fights. Obviously, something is wrong. We can assume that his behavior is partly the result of troubles at home. We can see the hurt in his face as he looks at his parents who are obviously cold toward each other.
For whatever reason, the parents decide to split up and the boy is left crying. His anger comes out as he tears up his room. Too many people can identify with this. Divorce often causes children to question everything and they often wonder if they are to blame. Talking about his song, James TW said that he wrote it to give kids in this situation hope, to “help them realize that what’s happening might just be for the best,” to help them “feel better about the situation.”3 His goal is admirable and the song is moving, but I confess I’m not sure that his explanation is very helpful.
It don’t make sense, but nevertheless
You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best
I have to wonder, how this is comforting? It sounds like the sort of answer you might get from someone who doesn’t have any good reason for doing what they’re doing. It’s a cop-out. It assumes that kids could never understand. Commenting about the boy he was teaching, James TW remarked, “I wondered how his parents were going to tell him in a positive way and in a way someone like him, who knows nothing about relationships or love, would understand.”4
James TW assumes that children understand nothing about relationships or love. But surely this is incorrect. If he is referring to marital relationships, then yes there are many complexities that a child would not yet understand. However, in general, children understand love and relationships as much as anyone else. Indeed, in the music video, the son clearly desires to be loved and to have a relationship with his father. He recognizes that this is not easy now that the parents are separated. Even if they can’t articulate it, children know that relationships are complex. They know when they are loved and when they are not.
At the beginning of the video, the boy is being reproved because he’s “talking with his fists” and unreachable. The parents ask “We didn’t raise you like this, now did we?” But the parents are acting in the very same way for which they are reproving their son. It makes me question whether adults understand relationships any more than children.
Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love
Sometimes two homes are better than one
Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young
Yeah, you’ll understand
When you love someone
Again, the goal of the song is to help kids understand. But does this really help anyone understand divorce? We’re being told that people fall out of love, that two homes can be better than one, but why? What are the reasons? These are “just cause,” they aren’t really reasons. Are two homes really better than one? Noting the fact that it was hard to say that divorce was for the best when so many people have a negative view of it, James stated: “It can be a good thing when divorce happens, because it means the child will be in a more comfortable environment in the long run.”5 As the song lyrics read:
There ain’t no one here to blame
And nothing’s going to change
With your old friends
Your room will stay the same
‘Cause you’ll only be away
On the weekends
The boy is reassured that things aren’t really going to change all that much. These kind of explanations are not helpful. It reminds me of the film Jurassic World. In the film, a young boy’s parents are on the verge of divorce. His older brother tries to comfort him by telling him it will be good because he will have two of everything. But the boy doesn’t want two of everything, and neither does anyone else.
Children want to know that their parents love each other. It gives them security and confidence that they also are loved. The song reassures children that the parents will love them no matter what, even though they are going to separate. But how is a child supposed to believe that? Weren’t we just told that sometimes moms and dads fall out of love––no explanation, it just happens? Will moms and dads fall out of love with their children, too?
I don’t want to come down too hard on the artist here. I think the song is an admirable attempt to help kids deal with divorce. It’s heartbreaking and moving. It acknowledges the difficulty of marriage, the pain of divorce for the parents and the children, and it acknowledges the fact that people do sometimes fall out of love. “Sometimes the best intentions just ain’t enough.”
But is marriage just about being “in love?” Is it about good intentions or is it about commitment? Is it about what’s best for children or what is most convenient for adults? No doubt, there are times when a divorce may be needed for protection or when the marriage covenant has been broken. But with divorces being filed every 13 seconds, one has to wonder if the majority of cases are truly unavoidable.
We should also be sensitive to the fact that sometimes divorces happen that are no fault of the spouse. With no-fault divorce laws, people are often put in a position where there is literally nothing they can do to prevent divorce if their spouse wants one. These laws have put marriage into a quagmire, making it all too easy to leave someone you made vows to if you’re no longer “feeling it.” Those who have experienced divorce need our love and compassion, not our condemnation.
These reasons aside, there is nothing in the music video itself to indicate that the problem is one-sided or that there is any kind of abuse going on. From our vantage point, all we know is that mom and dad don’t feel love for each other anymore, and they are fighting. Is divorcing in that situation the best thing for the children, or is it the most convenient thing for a mom and dad who can’t get along?
The end of the music video seems to refute the idea that it’s really for the best and nothing really changes. As the son moves to embrace his father, we are left to ask, was this really what was best? Was divorce really the right option?
This Article Corresponds To:
- Understanding the Culture, chapter 10.2 “What Is The Problem?”
- Understanding the Culture curriculum, unit 10, pp. 245–248
Possible Discussion Starters:
- Why do you think so many people are getting divorced today?
- Do you think the song would be comforting to a child whose parents were getting divorced? Why or why not?
- Is marriage primarily about being in love, or is there something else to it?
- “The True Facts About Divorce In The US”
- “Broken Vows, Broken World” – John Greco
- “How Could Divorce Affect My Kids?” – Amy Desai, J. D.
- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller
- Left: The Struggle to Make Sense of Life When a Parent Leaves – Jonathan Edwards
Note: External links in this post are provided as a convenience for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Summit Ministries of any of the products, services, or opinions expressed.
- “The True Facts about Divorce in the US,” divorcelawyersformen.com. https://www.divorcelawyersformen.com/blog/divorce-rate-us-2018/
- James TW, “When You Love Someone Backstory,” youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAdLVp6bEMQ
- “When You Love Someone by James TW,” songfacts.com. https://www.songfacts.com/facts/james-tw/when-you-love-someone