Thought Catalog
February 3, 2015

When Your Parents Divorce When You’re Just A Kid

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Unsplash / Joshua Earle
Unsplash / Joshua Earle

Divorce is one of those ubiquitous topics that we all seem to talk around, but never actually talk about. Maybe it’s because we’re normalized to it now. Or it’s so common that we don’t think it’s worthwhile to look into the implications a divorce has on the children that get caught in the crosshairs of it. Sure, as a kid, we get double birthdays and double holiday celebrations and double presents, but overall, I think it’s one of those things that we don’t realize affects us in real and insidious ways. I know it took me a long time to realize that some of my behaviors, emotional responses, and automatic beliefs were a byproduct of growing up in a broken household.


When your parents divorce when you’re just a kid, a few things happen to you: 1) you spend your life feeling unsettled; 2) you keep your distance from most people; 3) you have a difficult time with the emotional repercussions of being without a person. When you are young and shuffling yourself back and forth from one home to the other, you do not know what it’s like to be with all the people you love. You are not old enough yet to understand that whoever you leave will come back, that you will see them again. Each time you leave feels like a death and you spend the three days at mom’s grieving over the loss of dad.

As you get older, you don’t talk about your “parents.” It’s “mom” and “dad.” Never “parents.” Because your parents are not a unit. They never have been. You never quite feel settled wherever you are. If you’re in one place, you are itching to leave. You don’t stay, because you never stayed. You had to prepare yourself to leave every few days. You don’t get attached because if you get attached, you get hurt. You have learned how to appreciate people in the moment, but they are out of sight, out of mind the moment you leave. It’s not them, it’s you. This is how you protect yourself. This is how you’ve learned to steel yourself for the shuffling around, the nervous feeling that when things get good, you’ll have to be pulled away.

You won’t believe in love the way people who grew up with a single parental unit believe in love. Your fear of commitment will engulf you. The thing people do is they leave. This is what you know to be true. So, you leave first. When it starts becoming emotional and serious, you bail. Because, leaving on your own terms is better than the trauma of being wrenched from the person you love. Plus, all that is good ends. Why wait around for your world to collapse?

You will be addicted to change, to uprooting your life, because this is the kind of life you’ve grown accustomed to. You’re good at it. Leaving one life in exchange for another is your comfort zone. People may see this as brave, but this is you surviving. Staying would be brave. Yet, holding on and staying in one place is too vulnerable for you. You could get too comfortable and off-guard when you start letting people seep into your life and fill up the cracks. If anyone becomes a part of you, that means you could lose them. You could miss them. And, that’s what you cannot do. The amount of missing you’ve done is enough for a lifetime. Loving anyone means you could get slaughtered by that love and that’s not always a risk you’re willing to take.

You will think this divorce couldn’t possibly affect you this much. You were so young! Everyone gets divorced now! But, then you think about it and you realize how vulnerable you were. Maybe you were two years old or six or ten and you don’t remember the fights, the break-up, so in that respect, maybe you were spared the trauma of watching your family fall apart. But, the lack of memory is what does it. It’s the lack of any solid memory of having a family. Just one family. Your family. Maybe your mom or your dad or both remarried and built their lives. Even if you fit there, even if you were a part of their lives, it never truly felt like yours. That’s not your grandparent. That’s not your aunt. They aren’t your blood and blood doesn’t always make a family, but for you, it matters. You never had the choice for a family. It was torn apart before you could commit a memory to your mind. You’ll miss something and you won’t even know what it is. Just a dull, empty missing of something, like an itch that seems like it’s coming from inside your skin. You’ll long for something you never had.

And really, you’ll never feel like you belong anywhere. No amount of double holidays or double birthday celebrations could have made up for what you actually wanted all along: a family you could call yours. Instead, you had to make due with the pieces of a broken family, shifting from one home to the other, never feeling quite settled into either. Maybe you’ll love and build your family and you’ll do everything you can to not repeat the life you had. Or, maybe you’ll spend your life searching for the broken fragments of the family that could have been. Maybe you’ll piece it all together to make something whole. Maybe you’ll feel foolish for even caring and you’ll tell yourself you were too young to notice.

But, you’ll notice it one day, it’ll creep up on you when you’re not expecting it. Perhaps someone will try to love you and you won’t know why you won’t let them, why you’re looking for reasons to leave. Until it hits you like a bolt of lightning straight into your brain that why you’re looking for reasons to leave is because all you’ve ever known is leaving. That the reason you hold all the people you love out at a safe distance is because the moment you feel vulnerably connected to them is the moment you can get hurt if they leave you. It reminds you of the coming and going. The constant coming and going. The constant feeling of being ripped away from the people you love by the people who love you. TC mark

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