I have very few memories of my parents being married before I turned 11. Wait, scratch that—I have very few memories, period. My subconscious decided to block out most of my childhood to prevent me from the very stressful, very angry marriage my parents had. Thankfully I got over my anxiety disorder after a lot of Paxil and a lot of therapy and by the time I was in sixth grade I stopped ripping my hair out during class (sorry teachers, I’m sure that was pretty awkward for you). The seldom times I can recall include a lot of my dad yelling, a lot of me crying alone in my room, and I can’t remember anything about that one time we went to Disney world and I can’t admit that to my father because “he thought spending money on vacations was stupid.”
I’m 22 now, and neither of my parents re-married. With his anger problems and manipulative personality, my dad will likely never re-marry and the only thing that makes me sad about that is the fact that I’ll have to take care of him when he’s older because no one else will.
Let me say first that one of the best reasons why being the child of a divorced family isn’t so bad is that my parents are, actually, divorced. It was a toxic relationship and it needed to end. My mom in many ways saved me from being an equally toxic daughter by removing me from such a negative environment. When I started picking up my father’s mannerisms, she knew it was time to leave. So if your family can still afford two homes and fill up two closets and happen to re-marry, then maybe being a child of divorce isn’t so bad. But here are some reasons why it is…
1. We lack people who model healthy relationships. I have definitely learned what not to do after seeing the way my parent’s marriage fell apart, but that doesn’t mean I count it as an advantage. It can mean that when you meet your boyfriend’s parents for the first time and see them holding hands and joking around and being all sorts of wonderful, when they leave for the night you have a slight panic attack and cry your eyes out because you haven’t seen what a healthy relationship looks like in years (again, awkward… I might be noticing a trend here).
2. Two split incomes. While my parents were still married, I would have considered our family to be upper-middle class. When my parents got divorced, my dad kept the house and my mom and I moved into a small townhouse where we lived month-to-month. We’re all better off now, but when it came to things like college tuition, studying abroad, or spring breaks—it has always been a struggle. I had to work all the way through college, and if my parents were still married, I guarantee that wouldn’t have happened. Two split incomes means two homes, which sounds nice, but it also means two mortgages, two cell phone bills, two insurance plans, two car payments, and basically two of any other bill you can think of.
3. Siblings. My parents might have had more kids if their marriage didn’t suck so badly. But, they didn’t, and I’ll always be an only child. When I was younger—when I cried that one time my parents were fighting in the kitchen and my friend and I could hear them upstairs (rudely interrupting our sleepover)—I wished I had someone to share my sadness and confusion with, even though I wouldn’t wish that childhood on anyone else.
4. Bi-annual holidays. Christmas? With mom. Easter? With dad. Birthday? Tell-both-you-don’t-have-plans-so-you-don’t-have-to-choose. Holidays are the worst because you always have to choose one parent over the other. And sometimes you don’t even like the decision you’re making, but you feel pressured into it “because it’s fair.” I wish I didn’t have to spend another holiday with my dad. But I do, because I’m trying not to be an awful daughter and keep together the scraps of the relationship we have left even though he doesn’t deserve it. And now that I have a boyfriend, I’m sharing holidays with him, too. Call it the cruelest juggling game ever invented.
5. Double presents? How about not even a birthday card. I envy the divorced families whose parents can still tolerate each other. But in my own research, I’ve found that when people get divorced, usually one parent screwed up and has turned into a generally worthless parent/human being without the support of a former spouse. My dad didn’t even send me a birthday card this year.
6. Having to keep secrets and generally feel like a shitty person for lying. My parents will never side with each other. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean my dad doesn’t constantly try to pry information out of me to make my mom out to be a bad person. Will I ever tell my mom that my dad got a gun license and owns two firearms? Never in a million years. Will I ever tell my dad that we were “late” to his dinner/hang out session was because we were taking my mom out for brunch on her birthday? Nope.
7. Having to stare down your trauma and accept it as a part of you. When I was diagnosed with my anxiety disorder, the give-away behavior was that I couldn’t sleep. Ever. Like, put-your-bed-in-the-hallway-to-be-closer-to-your-parents because I couldn’t sleep. I was always the kid whose mom had to come get her from another failed sleepover because I was afraid of being the last one awake. Some nights I still get antsy when my boyfriend falls asleep before I do. When I’m stressed or upset, I compartmentalize. I shut people out and I isolate myself for hours on end. I had to learn how to stand up for myself, how to productively express anger and how to break down my own walls. None of these are healthy behaviors. All of them evolved as a result of my parent’s broken marriage.
It’s taken me a long time to accept these things as part of me, because I hate them and I hate where they come from. The most terrifying of all is that I can’t remember my childhood. Every now and again I get bits a pieces—the fabric of a blanket I played with outside or my Easy Bake Oven—but I suppose there is a valid reason why I don’t remember it. That’s the worst reason… that there is even a reason at all.