Mr. & Mrs. Smith, at last!
On August 23, 2014, one of the world’s most recognizable couples wed in a small civil ceremony on their private estate in France. Of course I’m speaking of Brangelina, the celebrity duo otherwise known as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The pair has six children together: Maddox adopted from Cambodia, Pax from Vietnam, Zahara from Ethiopia, and three biological children: Shiloh, Vivienne, and Knox.
To the surprise of many, it was their children who made many of the most important decisions surrounding the ceremony—from her dress design to the wedding vows. But this all makes sense, considering the couple says it was the kids’ insistence that led them down the aisle.
Their (and our) interest and jubilance surrounding their parent’s marriage is well-founded. Relationship stability is of monumental importance to happiness and societal well-being. In fact a study in the journal Children, Families, and Foster Carereported that family stability and healthy child development go hand-in-hand.
And marriage itself dramatically reduces the chances that a child will be abandoned or rejected by a parent. Indeed so much social-science evidence exists affirming that children fare best when raised by their married parents, that it’s hard to choose which is the best to cite.
Therapist and researcher Judith Wallerstein wrote in her important work The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 year landmark study,
“It’s in adulthood that children of divorce suffer the most. The impact of divorce hits them most cruelly as they go in search of love, sexual intimacy, and commitment. Their lack of inner images of a man and a woman in a stable relationship and their memories of their parents’ failure to sustain the marriage badly hobbles their search, leading them to heartbreak and even despair. They cried, ‘No one taught me.’”
Wallerstein speaks of divorce, but what she really infers is relationship dissolution regardless of legal status.
Every detail of Brad and Angelina’s intimate ceremony was a gift to their children. The veil was a swath of colorful drawings done by the kids, hand-embroidered by close family friend Luigi Massi of Atelier Versace. But the wedding was modest in contrast to the lavish celebrations of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. The cake was baked by son Pax. They clearly cared much more about what they as a family wanted than the public at large.
Brad’s parents, who are still together, attended the wedding, as did Brad’s siblings, Doug and Julie. While neither of Angelina’s parents were there, much homage was paid to Jolie’s beloved late mother, Marcheline Bertrand, who died of ovarian and breast cancer at age 56 in early 2007. It was Marcheline who wanted the couple to marry in France. At the ceremony, Angelina wore a locket with a picture of her mom inside. Jolie’s parents divorced after her father, actor Jon Voight, cheated on her mother, and Angelina had several periods of estrangement from her father. Her parents' divorce apparently put young Angelina’s life in a tailspin. By age twenty, she regularly cut herself and tried “just about every possible drug.”
But today she describes her life as “very full”—undoubtedly her growing family plays a large role in engendering those feelings. As German anti-Nazi dissident and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1943 to a young bride and groom, "It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love." I suspect the Jolie-Pitt children felt this instinctively.
We reward and hold in high esteem actors who are willing to suffer for their roles. Whether they need to gain weight, lose weight, dance on the edge of danger, study mental illness, or fake joy when they're feeling less than happy, we give important awards to actors who are willing to do these things for the good of a role. Even when their sacrifices only last a moment.
In their new roles now as husband and wife, Brad and Angelina will continue to make constant sacrifices for the good of their children. Their new identities have no commencement date; there are no cameras to stop rolling—no relief. But if they succeed in this enterprise, they will succeed in the most important way for their children—not to mention in inspiring more onlookers than perhaps any other performance of their careers.
They have contributed their talents and sacrificed privacy for the sake of culture. They have given generously of their income for the sake of poverty and international relief efforts. They have opened their home and volunteered themselves as parents. Now they’ve said the vows. It may not be the traditional order of things, but the cliché is true: It’s better late than never.