When I was eight, my parents told me they were separating. I was confused. I thought, “this happens to other families, not mine.”
When I realized this wasn’t a prank, I got angry. Specifically, I was angry at my mom. Although my dad had asked for the divorce, I thought my mom was to blame. She was always shouting at him, and he had to move out of the house. I decided the whole mess must be all her fault, which, of course, it wasn’t.
Perhaps I blamed my mom because I felt more certain about my relationship with her. But really, I was afraid of losing my dad. This was rooted in what I saw in many of my friends’ families after divorce. They had absent fathers: fathers with no role in their lives or a very small role. Because of this, I thought divorce meant losing a parent.
There are different reasons why my friends had absent fathers. For some, it had to do with custody. For others, their fathers had actively abandoned them. However, my story of divorce was different, because I was able to keep my dad.
Initially, I was upset by my parent’s separation. However, in the long term, it was for the best. When parents argue a lot, divorce can come as a relief to children. Fighting between parents can make the home feel like a warzone, leading to heightened anxiety and stress for children. This can continue to affect them later on in life. Most of the time, holding onto an unhappy marriage “for the kids” forces children to grow up in a toxic environment.
My parents worked to make sure their separation didn’t mean I’d have to grow up in a toxic environment. Instead, my weeks were divided between them. My time wasn’t limited to a few hours or a weekend with one parent. For the next 10 years, both of my parents helped me with school work, dropped me off at friends’ houses and gave me emotional love and support. When friends came to visit, I’d ask “which of my parents should we stay with?” and we’d decide on which house would be more fun for that weekend.
I also celebrated special occasions twice.
On the morning of my birthday, I woke up to gifts and a birthday breakfast. I then took a batch of homemade muffins to school for my classmates. That evening, I’d go to my other parent’s house for my birthday dinner. My dad’s new relationship also meant I had a new, part-time family. My step-brother and I had our fair share of squabbles over who got the TV remote, but, the plus side of step-families is that rivalries are far more infrequent when you don’t live together all the time.
My parents were angry at each other initially. There was tension when they were in the same place and sometimes they went for a walk to argue. However, they never involved my brother and me in their disputes.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that children not only witness violent disputes but may also become the target or reason for the fight. This can make children blame themselves for the conflict.
I also don’t think my parents’ divorce changed how I look at marriage.
Sometimes relationships don’t work out. I think that marriage is a more ‘official’ version of a relationship. Plus, I have many positive affirmations of long-term relationships.
My grandparents have been married for almost 60 years!
Most mornings, my grandfather makes breakfast for him and my gran and reminds her to take her medication. Most evenings, my gran reminds my grandfather to eat his greens. My parents’ relationship happened to not work out, but, that doesn’t mean all relationships are doomed.
Before my parents’ divorce, I thought finding a forever person was a prerequisite to happiness. I don’t think this anymore. A forever person would be nice but I think happiness and fulfillment can be found in many ways that may or may not include a significant other.
My independence is probably the only long-term impact of my parent’s divorce.
Living between two houses required me to be more organized. I had to make sure I had clean sets of school uniform, lunch supplies and homework materials at both houses. I had to communicate effectively with my parents about my plans for the week. And, more or less living out of a bag for ten years has made me a very skilled packer. Packing for trips is an easy and quick undertaking and I rarely forget the essentials.
Divorces can break families apart and it is unlikely that any child will come out of a divorce unscathed. For many, this trauma continues later into life.
Thanks to my parents, I am lucky that my story of divorce has a happy ending.