I have recently begun writing about my experience navigating the murky waters of my parents divorce. One of the ways that I have been learning about the situation I find myself in has been to reach out to my friends, and to find support from others who have also gone through all of the confusing emotions, guilt, sadness, and discomfort that comes with being an adult when your parents split up.
Many of their stories are strikingly similar to my own: we are confused by our roles in this, we feel uncomfortable being privy to a lot of intimate information, we begin to rehash our childhoods, and we search out the right boundaries to put up. As adults, our parents never sit us down and reassure us that they love us even though they are getting a divorce, and we don’t necessarily want them to. It’s not about being coddled or protected by our parents anymore; for us it is about finding a sense of stability and normalcy that allows us to move forward.
Here are some of the things we want to share:
Sometimes you must be patient, and sometimes you must learn how to move forward because you need to carry on a life without the weight of constant anger. Connie, already a mother of her own children, had to learn how to forgive:
The biggest challenge when my parents first divorced was controlling my own feelings of betrayal. At this later stage in life, I had what I thought was a stable leader of the family in my father, but when he decided to leave, that image was destroyed. I had a very hard time with that for 10 whole years. I had to “kill” him in my head in order to get past what I thought I knew. He told me he left because we as a family didn’t need him. What bullshit.
Siding with those of us who were left was easy. None of us could grasp for many years why dad would put himself so far away from us, he must have not felt anything for us, or worse didn’t care. What could we have done to be the family he wanted? The answer was a very personal struggle for me. I knew I needed to deal with facts, but I also knew I was not going to get the answers I wanted. I floundered for a long time, and then decided I had more important things in front of me to worry about, so I had to let go. I felt better about it as time went by.
I decided that my family was most important to me, and if he chose to leave it, then that was his loss. I wanted to not hurt anymore about it, and I didn’t want to spread poisoned emotions to my children about it. He would just not be here with us, and they would never know him.
This doesn’t bother me anymore.
Yes, as time goes by the best thing I could do for myself and the people I live with is to forgive the break, and try to find a way to make it a positive learning experience. I learned more about myself, and what I will stand up for and I value that highly. I was able to “gel” and see things more clearly, but being patient is something I really had to work on.
Della had to learn how to see her parents differently after they split when she was young and stayed ‘friends’ as she grew up:
My whole life I’ve been in the middle. They constantly discussed how I was to be parented in front of me. I was so in the middle that I guessed that they were splitting up before they told me. I knew way too much about their relationship. I had my naive 7-year-old outlook on a lot of things that I probably shouldn’t have formed opinions on until later on. For example my parents had a somewhat open relationship when my father got another woman pregnant. That same woman (my ex-stepmother) decided that she should go through me when she couldn’t reach my mother to tell us about her daughter/my sister.
I’m honestly still figuring out how to set boundaries. The whole thing still confuses me. I guess the only real boundary I set was to separate them as my parents from two people having a toxic friendship with one another. So when I speak to my mother or father about something, I ask that they only discuss it with me as parents and not as friends. My advice would be to stay out of it as much as possible. It’ll only cause you grief. Be firm about your boundaries, what you will and will not tolerate while the family transitions to the new normal and where you see yourself fitting into it. Finally, as hard as it might be, remember that their issues are theirs, not yours. Let them fix it.
Mike is trying to decide where his boundaries should be:
My parents are getting divorced right now actually. My dad and his new girlfriend are coming to visit soon. So crazy. It’s super weird. I’m struggling with how much is appropriate to even care about this. Is this supposed to affect me in the same way as a 12 year old? Also, setting boundaries has been tough. It is strange seeing my father happy for the first time. Its strange how my mom calls me crying all the time, and depends on me to make her feel better. It’s strange how I hear two versions of the same story. It’s strange how hard it has been for me to set boundaries because in some ways I would rather know too much than too little.
Jackie had to learn how to respect her siblings’ decisions, even as she had to distance herself:
It was ugly, like really ugly and I had to keep reminding myself that as an adult I am able to have my own adult relationships with each person involved completely independent of their relationship with others. I stuck up for my brother and sister when I felt that someone was putting them in a difficult position but I also talked to them about it and made sure they understood what was going on and let them make their own choices. My dad is really selfish and manipulative but my brother really identified with him during the divorce and I had to respect that and not let it interfere with our relationship.
I’m not nearly as close with my dad as I was before all this happened and it hurts. It hits me sometimes how much it hurts. Cause even though he’s crazy and mean and sick he’s still my dad. I love him but I find solace in the fact that I don’t always have to like him. It’s not me judging or being closed-minded, it’s me taking care of me and that’s more important than his feelings on any particular day. And it’s hard, but I do believe that even when he’s not acting like it he feels that way too and wants the best for me.
Remember that you never have to be someone’s confidant if you don’t want to. That’s never a child’s responsibility.
Rebecca had to learn that she could not force her parents to be better people, and that being a parent for her siblings was not her job.
I was so worried about my younger siblings being torn apart during the divorce that I allowed myself to get drawn into the drama of it all. I thought I would be able to advocate better for the kids, and I wanted to be able to help shape something that would be good for them because it seemed like my parents were very lost in their own emotions of bitterness, betrayal, and selfishness.
Talking to my sister about it, I realized how strong she is. She’s still at home, but so completely sound in her decisions about things that I am impressed. I realized I didn’t have to fight for her. I’m her sister, not her parent. We can both be sad and hurt and confused, and I don’t have to compromise myself trying to make things better for my siblings.
That realization really allowed me to take a step back and remove myself from the toxicity of the divorce, and to avoid painful and unnecessary conversations and arguments with my parents.
Eva had to learn to accept that her parents’ divorce deeply impacted her own relationships, and to acknowledge that she could move away from painful behavior with therapy:
I was the one who discovered my dad’s affair. I moved out right before it all went down. I moved in with [my boyfriend, and future husband] and a few friends and I honestly did some stupid things. I drank a lot and cheated on [him]. It was so bad and so stupid and I think I was honestly just trying to forget everything.
After the initial badness of it all, I got out of my funk and stepped up. I stopped doing the stupid crap and stopped letting my emotions control me. I met up with friends who had gone through the same thing, I opened up to my mom about my feelings and I spent more time with family. I tried to make sure I didn’t let my dad’s mistakes make my decisions.
I finally went to therapy and in those sessions I talked a lot about my parents divorce and seeing a professional really helped me process it all, even years later!
If I could do it all differently I would have talked to a professional sooner. I would not have moved into a house full of guys I barely knew. I would have talked to my dad through it more. My biggest regret is ignoring my dad for so long, I was just so angry with him. I still am, honestly. I would have also been honest with my parents. I was too scared to tell them I was hurting because they had too much to deal with and I was supposed to be an adult. So I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel like I needed them.