“There is a year to ask questions and a year to answer.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston
At 13, my childhood as I knew it came to an end. My parents sat my brother and me down at the kitchen table and told us they were getting a divorce. At that moment, I felt the pain of losing the only family unit I knew.
As a teenager, I was devastated by the news, but it took me another 20 years to fully realize what I had lost. And to admit that I never fully grieved over this loss.
Although divorce is very common in the United States, it is not a benign experience for children and adolescents. Children from divorced families are at increased risk of developing mental disorders, having lower levels of education, and experiencing relationship problems. increase.
However, not all divorces are created equal and affect children in the same way. And if children still feel loved, protected, and supported by their parents after divorce, this acts as a buffer against long-term harm.
However, in many cases, after a divorce, parents are not in the emotional or financial state to continue meeting their children’s needs at the same level they were before the divorce. You are less likely to receive emotional support. This is my personal experience.
I started the grieving process after receiving news that my parents were planning a divorce. Then I felt the wrath that they were uprooting my entire world. And after my anger subsided, I remember begging them to stay with me for weeks.
Twenty years later, after a series of stressful life events, I realized how much my parents’ divorce still affected me, and that I still had some grief to go through. So, at the age of 32, I faced the childhood head on that I’ve been trying to avoid all my adult life. And I gave myself everything the thirteen-year-old me needed twenty years before him but never got.
I got social support through my husband, friends and a therapist. And 20 years later, I finally gave myself permission to grieve my childhood and the family I came from.
I think the reason divorce is so detrimental to children is because of the common belief that children are resilient and will always bounce back. I can’t. However, children do not have the emotional maturity to manage their own emotions when they experience such an intense loss. This is especially true when it involves a type of adverse childhood experience.
Divorce can often lead to severe upheaval and disintegration of family structures, so this makes children more vulnerable to other types of trauma. Any absence can make an already dire situation worse for a child. It may look like it, but it can be life-threatening for children.
I never fully grieved and accepted my parents’ divorce because I didn’t have the social support I needed. I was focused on survival. But it took me years to realize that my parents were also focused on survival.
I know my parents did the best with the tools they had at the time. However, it was difficult to understand why parents did not do everything in their power to protect their children from trauma.
I wasn’t old enough to understand that mental illness and substance abuse were what drove my parents’ partners into violent rage. I had to pretend to be normal, but I neglected to consider the long-term effects of trauma during such a formative and developing year.
From the age of 14, I hopped from friend’s house to friend’s house to avoid the instability and chaos of a post-divorce home. By the age of 16, I was out of school and working in a restaurant almost full time.
I had no plan for my life, but working gave me a sense of security and a different identity. They only cared about me coming to work on time.
In retrospect, it is clear that my desire to quit school and work was a means of gaining some control over my chaotic and troubled home life. I felt that I had to protect it. And this has been a consistent feeling throughout my life.
As I began the process of grieving my parents’ divorce as an adult, I realized that many of my beliefs about the world and myself were related to the aftermath of this traumatic experience.
From an early age, I was instilled with the belief that the world was not a safe place and that I did not deserve security or protection. And through her grieving process, I realized that the 13-year-old girl who had feared for her own safety was still inside me, and she wanted to listen and comfort.
I wanted to tell her that she had nothing to fear. But that wouldn’t be true. Her post-divorce decade was filled with intense pain and turmoil. And she is expected to live up to her challenges over the years.
I can’t say I’m not afraid of anything, but I could say I’m brave enough to get through it. And she becomes an adult with her capacity to love and devoted to maintaining her health and marriage. She will then complete college and graduate school, pursue her professional career, and travel the world.
I could tell her that a stressful life experience in her early thirties would open wounds that had been closed for decades. And through this journey, she learns to forgive and show compassion — to herself and others.
Grieving my parents’ divorce changed me. I’m not waiting for the other shoe to fall off. And I’m no longer going to blame myself for the truncated childhood. I’m also learning that the world isn’t as scary and unpredictable as I thought it was all my adult life.
There was a time in my youth when I experienced difficulties beyond my capabilities, but now I have discovered that all the tools I need are within me. And I know it’s possible to reach a point in life where you focus less on surviving and more on thriving.