When it comes to divorced parents, there’s always a predictable set of moves they employ to break the news to you. To fellow veteran kids of divorce, bear with me as I introduce this to the newbies. Stage 1 involves the interruption of your absolutely blissful and unassuming moments with interrogations about school, friends, potential significant others? My interruption was when I was in the middle of slurping up the largest strawberry-vanilla shake I have known. This interrogation transitions to Stage 2 — not very smoothly — which involves a phrase like, “So your (other parent) and I have been thinking about this for a while…” Now you have probably seen this coming from a mile away, but the actual words “we are getting divorced” still comically put you in a state of shock. Now that this ordeal is over, how do you deal with the aftermath?
I might be wrong, but I believe that the lives of children whose parents get divorced when they are very young are impacted very differently from those whose parents get divorced when they are teenagers or adults. I, unfortunately, belong to the second category. I say “unfortunately” because I feel divorce is harder to cope with as a teenager because your identity is shaped by your familial experiences and you have always viewed your family as a whole unit. Although my parents had the selfless intentions of staying together until I was old enough, I was also mature enough to feel the impact of family breakdown when it actually happened. Being a young adult, you face the expectations of being able to “deal” better. It is assumed that since you are much older and able to comprehend the family dynamics, the loss of a family entity is not as disconcerting. Although coping with these circumstances while attempting to live up to adult expectations is hard, there are some valuable lessons I have learned along the way.
I think one of the most important things to remember is this: it’s your parent’s divorce from each other, not you. If you decide to, you should establish individual relationships with your parents and begin to consider them as separate people, rather than a joint package. It is definitely hard to adjust to a “new normal” in which your parents take separate cars to end up at the same location. However, as long as they’re both there, you should remember that a change in their relationship does not have to impact your individual relationships.
Another important lesson I learned was to never put myself in the middle. Whether this is becoming a medium of relaying information back-and-forth or attempting to play therapist, don’t do it. It can be tempting to want to please both parents or even offer them some amateur relationship advice that you’ve been practicing on your high school best friend for years, but this is a bad idea. It often leads to further complicating situations, misunderstandings, and a whole lotta drama. If you can, try to be a neutral party. This also applies to “he said/she said” gossip! If you didn’t know this, divorced parents love complaining about each other! As a young adult, you find yourself transforming into a sounding board for these rant sessions and pent-up negative feelings. Try to avoid conversations with one parent about another, or simply say that “you respect them but are not the most comfortable discussing the other parent.” This is not healthy for you as parents often begin seeing you as a confidant and you become burdened with the weight of someone else’s secrets and emotions.
Regardless of how old you are, dealing with the divorce of your parents is a hard adjustment. However, here’s the truth: you will never be able to step in their shoes to understand their perspective, but their divorce could possibly be the best thing for their relationship, and yours. Being an older child of divorce can trigger happy childhood memories and feelings and make them bitter. During this time, it is also easy to create drastic and negative beliefs about relationships and marriage, and you must be conscious enough to not let your parents’ experience define yours. You should allow yourself to get through these emotions and give yourself the time and space to grieve.
Let go of expectations, remember the good memories you had growing up as a nuclear family, and be grateful that you had that experience for as long as you did.