We know how divorce affects us as the person going through the ugly nasty hell. We even know some of how it affects our minor children now dealing with two households and two families. But we tend to forget that it still affects our grown children. I think we have a false belief that because they are adults, because they don’t live at home, because they are not involved in the day to day drama, that they are not affected. This is very UNtrue. Meet Chris, he is 29 years old, has been married for 6 years and has two beautiful daughters. His parents divorced while he was away at college 6 years ago and this is his story.
I remember when my mom told me that my dad had left. I remember her tears, I remember the trembles in her voice. I remember sitting at In-N-Out with my future wife and best friend having lunch when I got the call. I remember driving away with roughly a million thoughts fluttering around in my mind. I remember drinking a Scorpion Bowl from Kon-Tiki that night the size of my head.
You’re probably thinking, what a strange way for a child to cope with the news that their parents were splitting: driving around, drinking, and getting married. I guess I should clarify that I was not 12. I was 22, in another city, and getting ready to embark on a journey of marriage on my own.
I thought about my brother and sister, 14 and 4 respectively, still living in the house. What would they do? How are they going to react? As terrible as I feel for them, I have to admit I feel good about being away and safe…
I thought wrong.
I remember calling my dad, and I remember the awkward silence when he answered the phone with, “Hey bud.”
We had a mostly one sided conversation where I asked why he left, why he chose now, days before my sisters 5th birthday (where family and friends were supposed to gather at the house they shared for a party), why now after 23 years of marriage, and why now, a few short months before I was supposed to get married myself. I received a textbook answer, “I don’t know all those answers, but someday I will tell you. It’ll get easier.”
During the first few years where I had originally thought I would be safe – being an adult, in another city, and starting a family of my own – was nowhere near safe. There are basic rules for divorce for parents of younger children: don’t badmouth the other parent, don’t point fingers, and create a united front when making it clear it is not the child’s fault.
As an ADULT child? Those rules are non-existent. You are not hidden from the fights, from the court battles and rulings. You aren’t protected. If I had a nickel for every time I was swapped out as a son, and put in as a confidant…Or, every time I wanted to cover my ears and run away from the over-sharing while yelling, “lalalalalala”…I would have a shit load of nickels.
It’s been nearly 7 years and I still don’t have a definitive answer. As far as it getting easier? Divorce for an adult child is many things, and certainly different from younger children, but “easy”is not in the vernacular.
I was asked for feedback. I was asked for thoughts on court rulings. I was asked who I thought my siblings should live with, and the level of parenting time and ability each parent would be able to devote. I was asked about their lifestyles in relationship to parenting styles.
I was raised by both, and turned out just fine. Mostly.
Watching your family friends choose sides like kids on the playground after school, and when you see them out in public they lower their head and walk away. Were they ever really friends? Was that offer to just get away from the world for a little bit by coming over any time ever actually there?
As an adult child of divorce, I may have escaped the changing of the guard, but I was still affected in many ways. For example…
Realizing that certain memories are now off limits, and cannot be spoken of. Like when you went to Sea World and your little brother got so wet in the splash zone that he cried and had to be bought an entirely new wardrobe to wear immediately and looked like a walking fanboy-billboard for Shamu. Or, that time the family packed up the suburban and let you fold down the middle row, and sit in the back so it was like a huge bed the whole way to Colorado. It’s not reliving parts of your childhood because of the new meanings the memories have.
Taking the joy and excitement of your wedding and putting it aside to redo the seating charts at your wedding ceremony so that both your parents were up front, but not next to each other in the tiny pews. And, doing the same for the reception so that during dinner your parents were not only separated, but had their backs turned to each other so they weren’t staring down one another, or their respective families all night. Oh yeah, and which parent gets to sit with your brother and sister? Do you separate them? If so, which gets which? Then finding out one was upset enough about the arrangements to leave early.
The accomplishments of your college graduation being overshadowed by the tension of both parents having to sit and eat at the same table. In silence.
It’s being told that every thing you do makes you, “just like you mom/dad”enough that you want to collect nickels for every time and add that to your collection. And, wondering how you can alter yourself to not be “just like”them even though you are a combination of both and it never seemed to bother either of them previously.
Age or where you are in life neither helps you or hinders you when it comes to divorce.
Contrary to popular belief, sayings like, “at least your family was together for that long,”and, “you’re an adult – you’re old enough to just get over it”do not actually help. Where you are in life, or your age does not stop your world from collapsing around you.
Chris also has a blog dedicated to his daughters www.anoutnumbereddad.wordpress.com