I grew up in the 70’s in a home where volatile arguments between the big people were as common as Flintstones vitamins, bologna sandwiches, Tab and shag carpet. It was the only normal I knew. It was like living in a house with a foundation built on quicksand. Always predictably unpredictable. We learned to be on guard at all times, to get through the school day on little sleep, to accept not having friends over unannounced and we got really good at ignoring the deafening silence between our parents. When they weren’t fighting they were in separate rooms. Staring. Thinking of an escape plan. Regretting their choices. Mom sitting in a dark room with the only light being from the end of her cigarette. Dad staring out the tiny window in the basement.
I knew my parents’ marriage needed to be fixed as early as kindergarten. I told my teacher that my Dad had a girlfriend. But divorce? Really? Now that was not in my plan. What about fixing the problem? What about choosing happiness and committing to a new beginning? How about that? I realized they were splitting up at age 11 when my Dad walked down the stairs holding a suitcase. He patted me on the head while crying, and said, “I have to go Jillybean. I love you.” There was a plan other than mine, and I had to surrender to it.
Divorce is neither right nor wrong. It is what it is. Certainly not ideal. But even as one who later chose divorce, found love and a discovered a truly healthy, rich, fulfilling marriage in the second act, I will openly admit that divorce absolutely sucks for everyone. Even when it’s totally amicable. Yes, keeping kids in an empty marriage where one parent is in love with their addiction or another person, is bad news. That atmosphere will certainly be duplicated when the kidlets become the big people and until then it will do a lot of damage. Major damage. Yet I refuse to claim that divorce doesn’t affect our kids deeply and forever. Because is does. But so many of us who choose divorce justify it by pretending that no damage was done. I know it changed my children. It still brings a lump to my throat. I gave up. I failed.
To this day, although I would never ever ever want my kids to grow up in the brokenness of the “intact” unit that I called my family prior to my parents’ divorce, I still will admit that on a deep soul level I want my parents together. I do. I want my mom and dad to be married. But it’s the unrealistic union that I fantasize about…not the two who couldn’t be in the same room together without painful interaction.
So do what you gotta do. Stay. Don’t stay. Pray about it. Try to save it. Do not simply gut it out. Eww. No. Look at how you’ve caused the problem rather than blaming your spouse. Forgive. Move on if you must, but don’t ever lie to your kids, your friends and most importantly to yourself about the raw ick that divorce inevitably creates. With truth comes freedom. And hope. You can build on that. Our kids crave truth. They can sense inauthenticity like no other creature can. Even if the truth is ugly, they can stand on it. Give them something to stand on.
So for those who have divorced, I get it. I really, really get it. For those whose parents divorced, yep I get that one, too. For those gutting it out, know that you both deserve more and if you find yourself judging those of us who escaped your reality, please don’t. Especially if it stems from envy. For those who were able to heal, forgive and start anew, thank you for giving all of us hope. And for those in the thick of it…in the trenches…we stand behind you, before you and beside you.