I was twelve years old when my parents sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce, and it wrecked me. I quit ballet, the hobby I had devoted almost eight years to, pushed everyone away, and bottled in my confusion and emotions towards my parents. At the time, I attended a private Christian middle school and I still remember vividly every time I would announce the news to my friends at school or adults at church. I always got similar reactions. Most (if not all) reacted with shock, and some seemed almost horrified. They would tenderly touch my shoulders as if they were broken and say, “I’m praying for you.”
Looking back now, I realize that these people probably meant well with their words and actions, but being young and emotionally immature, I felt scared and, worse of all, embarrassed. I remembered thinking, “What is going to happen to me?” As if the divorce was going to completely modify my DNA, personality, and world, as if I was now damaged goods. My life was messy now. I didn’t have the perfect Christian home or family, my home was now a battlefield where promises were broken and doors were slammed. Friends stopped coming over. It was like there had been a death in the family. Since the church dealt with my parents as the transgressors who didn’t try or pray hard enough to salvage their marriage, my brother and I fit comfortably in the mold of the victim. I walked around with the scarlet “D” of divorce on my chest and felt paranoid that other families could pick me out from a crowd. It was easy to blame my parents, like everyone around them did. Going through the divorce of your parents, while you’re in the key growing stages of your life, gives your teenage angst the best ammunition. I had charged my parents for taking away the wholeness and unity of our family and sentenced myself to passive-aggressively guilting them for a lifetime.
As the years went on, it honestly got easier, but it was always there like a raised scar I couldn’t stop messing with. Every argument I had with my parents, I could feel the divorce comment ready to come out, never too far around the corner. It was too tempting to not throw in their faces. Every problem in my life, I irrationally traced back to the break up of my parent’s marriage. I honestly thought the feelings of betrayal would never go away. But then one day, I had a kind of epiphany.
As I was thinking about growing up, the trials and tribulations of meeting boys, obtaining crushes, getting rejected, getting heartbroken, and then doing it all again, I spontaneously thought of my parents. Sometimes we forget that our parents were once young. They stood in my shoes (and most likely with the same size shoe). Even they were once lovesick teenagers. I was left scratching my head. I had never handled my parents in the same way you would handle your best friend after she or he had been broken up with. I mean, that’s how heartbreaks work, right? In the words of a popular song from the band, The Script, “when a heart breaks, no it don’t break even.” Somebody always gets hurt. Was it possible that one (if not both) of my parents had been sent right back to the days of heartache that they thought they had left behind in their youth?
I couldn’t help myself thinking about all the “what-if’s”. If they had ever looked at their phone hoping that the other was calling with words of remorse or repentance, if they had ever had lonely nights that they wished the other was with them, or if they had ever felt the stab of rejection that comes from someone you cared so much about looking you straight in the eye and telling you they want nothing to do with you. It brought me to tears. I had never looked at my parents like were two heartbroken teenagers who, through the masquerade of adulthood, made them seem cold, callous, and emotionless about it. Nobody as a child sits dreaming out the window about the day they sign their divorce papers.
We, the children of divorce, often treat our parents with such disdain because we selfishly assume they are taking away our storybook family on purpose. And maybe they did take it away, maybe they weren’t perfect, but neither are we. Neither is anybody. Sympathizing with my parents’ breakup in the way I would deal with my close friend or co-worker’s breakup helped me empathize with them. It seemed so simple, but why at the time had it been so impossible? On top of the struggles my parents went through with their painful breakup, I noticed that it was far more difficult when you share children and a home. Society can react to divorce with scorn and turn parents into pariahs. Some people even go so far as ignoring and distancing themselves to avoid catching the divorce like a highly contagious zombie virus. This is all despite the very real fact that divorce is becoming more and more commonplace in our society.
If you’re a bitter child of divorce like I was (and am still growing out of), the only advice I can give is to simply let it go. It is 1,000 times harder to do than say, but remember that you are a human being, not a scorekeeper.
Natalie Beyer is a English major by day and a writer by night. A Southern California native striving to be the type of girl who can rock stripes AND polka dots without inducing vertigo.
(Image via Rikka Sormunen.)