*Warning – this is not going to be gentle but it will be fair.
Divorce in this country has become acceptable.
That’s the truth. We, as Americans, love our right to divorce. We love the ability to bail. To leave. To quit. We love quitting. Love it. We love giving up more than we love admitting our own faults, more than we well…love love itself.
That’s not to say some folks don’t have real legitimate reasons to leave their spouse. Many women and men make the tough decision because they have been abused physically or emotionally. And sometimes there were warning signs, sometimes not. This is not about them – completely. If they had children – then they should keep reading.
This is about the real victims of divorce – the children.
I am a child of divorce. I won’t get into the personal details of what happened as this is not about blame or revisiting the past. This is about understanding.
As a child of divorce I can speak about the consequences that fell on my shoulders. There were the physical changes – suddenly I was doing laundry and occasionally cooking at the young age of 12. My time was split between two homes. And like many children of divorce not only was the home split but also who I was to each parent. I was one person for my mother and one for my father. And I was counselor to both.
Many in my generation had to suffer through one of the most selfish periods in U.S. history – the “Me Generation” of the 1980’s. We saw our parents, many whom were deeply traumatized by their own upbringings or the repercussions of Vietnam, spend their mid-life searching for answers to their own pain. This search meant that they were no longer able to pay attention to us. And we noticed.
And it hurt. Deeply.
It hurt to see and hear the many things that come from a divorce. The words said by one parent about another – sometimes both parents forgetting that I was from each of them, not just one of them. It was confusing. The truth became a blurred figment that after awhile was too exhausting to try to get into focus. A child of divorce might simply find him or herself nodding and smiling, saying whatever will get them through that moment. I know I did.
It hurt to see your father or mother cry. Wail to the sky and ask that most obscure of questions – “Why? Why me?”
It hurt because so often they never looked over their shoulder and saw us standing there. They never asked us how we were doing. They just kept asking themselves “Why me?”
I wondered that too. I wondered why my parents went from love note writing teenagers to divorced, broken adults. I worried that I would follow the same path. I worried that I made the wrong decision when I decided to stay with my father. I worried about all these strangers coming into my life. I worried a lot. And did I feel helpless…
I hated having to grow up so fast. I hated traveling between two worlds and never finding one that fit me. When I think of home I don’t think of a physical place – I remember knick knacks that my mother had or pictures in an album capturing one second of time. There were and are no permanent monuments to my youth. No childhood home. No neighborhood that I grew up in. Partly because we moved a great deal but also because there were always two homes and two parents who both wanted me to consider where they lived home.
But home never existed. Not really. Not to me. Not without both of my parents under the same roof it didn’t.
Both parents remarried, my father many times, and with each new step-parent came new siblings, new photos on the wall of people who were strangers to me but important to my step-parents’ past. They were good people. They were. But as they moved in, part of me, well, moved out.
Divorce may just be a signature and a court date to our parents but it changes our lives forever.
My wife and I are both from divorced families. This is something that frankly has bounded us closer as neither of us see that as a solution to any problem. We love each other and that’s pretty much that. We took oaths on our wedding day and oaths means something to us.
There’s one period of the year that I think clearly illustrates the permanent solution that divorce becomes and the consequences that are felt for years on end. That period is the holidays.
For a child of divorce this is the hardest time of the year. As a teenager my father and mother lived in different states – so for the holidays it was a question of who did I stay with that year – my mother or father? Since I lived with my father I would spend Thanksgiving with him and come the Christmas break would fly out to visit my mother. This of course was stressful. My mother, who I didn’t see nearly as often anymore, would try to fit in a whole years of memories into a week period. I understood completely. It was hard. It’s hard to not see your mother.
As adult children of divorce we still never get to just have a holiday. We always have to try to balance our time between our various parents and of course we not only have to find gifts for our two biological parents but also for their spouses and any and all step-brothers and sisters. It’s stressful. It’s a lot. But it is the solution that our parents chose for us when they signed those papers.
Now I know that there are always reasons – trust me I heard them as did every child of divorce. And many of us were privy to the reason that the divorce happened. We saw the fights. We witnessed the cheating. We heard the crying. We saw the sadness creep in to our parents eyes. But that does not change that we are forever scarred and we were so rarely even asked how we were coping. How could we? Where was the room?
I do not write this as a guilt trip. I write this because it’s the truth.
My generation has to now pick up the pieces of family and try to start over. As a fairly newly married man I find I have no model to follow for marriage. I have no direct example from which to draw – well except my great-grandparents. They knew what love was and how to live it. I’ll tell you a story about them in closing.
My great-grandparents were married for over 50 years. My great-grandmother suffered from dementia in her late age and had to live in a home. Too old himself to care for her any more he would have to live with only visiting her. I can’t imagine what that’s like. Knowing your love is so close but you can not lie next her anymore, you can’t hear her breath next to you. You don’t see her when you wake up in the morning. You don’t get to feel her embrace or hold her hand whenever she needs some support. You have to visit her, like a stranger keeping an appointment. On one of his visits he sat in a corner chair, watching her sleep as I heard he often did. He nodded off in the chair, feeling calm in the presence of his love, his wife, his soul mate. And on this particular day – he never woke up.
That’s how my great-grandfather died. Sitting next to the woman he married. Sticking with her until the end. Never giving up. Never quitting.
We hope to name one of our children after him someday.
That’s love. Love does not quit.
Love is real.