I'm an adult child of divorce, and here's what I learned from the experience
My parents separated briefly when I was in first grade. It was a difficult thing to witness; I had to watch as both of my parents struggled to learn to be without each other. However, one day they decided to get back together and all was well in the world. There were times when I realized what could’ve possibly become of our family if they hadn’t gotten back together, and in those times I got sad, but I was also a little bit oblivious. I was six then, so I didn’t have to be a part of the big decisions and had no idea about their relationship, except when it came to whether they were under the same roof or not. Once they were back together, time passed and it felt like things were healed. For the most part, it never even felt like they were separated at all.
Now, I am 22 and things have changed. My parents have decided to officially split. While it’s been a tough road for everyone involved, there’s a lot to take away from it all. If they’d made this decision before, I may have eaten tubs of ice cream and written long letters to them begging for a reconciliation, but not anymore. I understand that this is what they feel is necessary for them, and while I may not fully understand their reasoning, and it hurts in the immediate, I love and support them.
When your parents divorce during your adult years, you have a different perspective and different coping mechanisms. You also learn some lessons that you might not have learned if it had happened when you were younger. Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learned from being an adult child of divorce:
Your parents are more than just your parents.
For some reason, it took my parents’ separation for me to realize that my parents were more than just the two people dedicated to raising me. It’s a lot like when you were growing up and you would be shocked to see your teacher at the store. It was like we didn’t realize our teachers had lives outside of the classrooms — we expected that they just waited for us at their desks until we returned the next day. That’s how I viewed my parents. I saw them solely in their role as caregivers for me. I had lost sight of the fact that they too felt the things that I felt as a person in a relationship. They, too, can fall in love, just as much as they can fall out of love. My parents were individuals long before me, and it took them putting space in between each other for me to see that.
You are still their child.
As an adult, the line that separates parent and child becomes a little blurred. When you were much younger, you were viewed just as a child who loved Saturday morning cartoons and needed care and nurturing. It was essential to tiptoe around you because you were too young to witness some of them more brutal aspects of life. Now, as an adult, you are more mature — you can be responsible for things, and you don’t need your parents as much. However, when times are tough, your parents still look at you as their baby, and they often want to shield you from harm. Being an adult through this experience has shown me more and more each day that I am actually still a child, in terms of how my parents see me. Although I can expertly pretend to have my life in order and can share a bottle of wine with my parents, I am also still their child.
You’ll often feel caught in the middle, and it’s even harder then being in the middle of a fight between friends.
Oh, how it stinks being in the middle of a fight between two friends. Both are gossiping, and you’re often just nodding along. Then all is fine when the two hash it out, and you’re all back to watching Friends reruns like nothing ever happened. When it’s your parents, however, you take on a whole new level of being stuck in the middle. There you are, standing in between two of the most important people in your life, the ones that know you better than you know yourself, and there’s no other way to put — it just sucks.
It’s no easier than if it would’ve happened when you were young.
Time and time again I have had people emphasize the fact that I am an adult now, and how I should be extremely grateful for that. While I get their point and I can see some validity behind it, it’s still not any easier. I am old enough to understand more than I want to at times. I am more aware of the trouble or complexities than a child could ever possibly be.
It’s not harder, either.
With that being said, I am old enough to push myself through it. I am old enough to explain to myself what’s happening and to talk about it openly. I don’t have to sit anxiously waiting for some truth to come out in my later years because I am already here. As a kid, your parents and the people around you try their best to protect you and keep the details locked away for a more appropriate time. This extends the entire grieving process of dealing with divorce, which is something I am fortunate enough to not have to deal with.
Most importantly, everything is going to be okay.
As an adult child of divorce, I would have to say that the toughest part of the process is wondering what will happen. Lucky for me, having an awareness that I wouldn’t have had during my adolescence allows me to understand and move on a lot easier. I have had nights where all I wanted to do was map out our future holidays and make the perfect plan for how we were all going to get through this. There have also been nights where I’ve thrown my hands up, wondering, “What are we going to do, now?” But at the end of it all, we will all be okay, even though it won’t look the same as before. We will learn a new normal, and “a new normal” is a concept that’s easier to grasp as an adult. For this, I am grateful.
Ashley Mac is a writer and aspiring McDonald’s food taster living in Houston, TX. When she’s not collecting Spider-Man everything she’s playing with her cats and watching the same shows over and over on Netflix. She loves writing positive pieces that help people get through tough times as well as pieces that pertain to feminism and anxiety. You can read her blog and follow her on Instagram.