My parents divorced when I was seven. Back then it was much more scandalous, and the words “broken home” were flung around me pretty often. The counselors at the various schools I attended called me into their offices every few months along with the handful of other children from “broken homes” and talked with us with care and compassion. It was a really big deal, apparently, that my parents were divorced, and everyone wanted to make sure I was doing OK in the midst of such life-changing turmoil.
The thing was, though, I was already OK.
My parents had been fighting for years. They’d separated numerous times for various lengths of time. Kids have ears, and the breaking down of their relationship wasn’t a shock to me. I’d heard it happening from the top of the stairs and in the back seat of the car. I knew my parents didn’t get along, and I knew if they weren’t married anymore, they wouldn’t be around each other to fight as much.
Simply put, I was actually better off with them apart.
I’m to the very grown-up stage in my life now when I have friends who are going through divorces, friends who have already divorced, and friends who are considering divorce. I absolutely believe in the sanctity of marriage, of fighting to keep and honor your vows, and putting in absolutely any amount of work it takes to repair what’s broken. But I also know there are very real grounds for divorce and very real situations in which divorce is not only understandable, it’s necessary. It’s very easy to enter into a marriage with the conviction divorce isn’t an option, but it’s not always a realistic one. Sometimes divorce happens.
As these loved ones of mine find themselves facing futures they’d never planned for, they often wrestle with the uncertainty, the shame, and the guilt of what their divorce will mean for their children. How will this affect the kids? What will they think of me? Will they become a statistic? Will they lose hope or faith in the institution of marriage? Just how badly will this very big break up affect them?
As a child of divorce, let me put you at ease.
They’ll be OK.
Really, they will.
It will be hard at first. There will obviously be a lot of change—moving into a new home or seeing one parent leave the current one, possible financial changes bringing more stress, potential changes in the way they’re treated by your ex’s family members. There’s no way to go through a divorce with children and it not affect them. But there’s also no way to stay in a painful, tumultuous relationship without it affecting them, either.
Children who see their parents accept verbal, physical, mental, or emotional abuse are learning something about what’s acceptable in their future relationships.
Children who hear their parents fight over infidelities and lies are learning something about what they’re worth in their future relationships.
Children who hear their parents dismiss each other’s concerns, defend their bad decisions, and negate the worth of one another in selfish attempts to maintain control or pride—they’re soaking it all up. They’re being affected. They’re being taught.
Children whose parents divorce are not destined for lives of turmoil and failed relationships. With access to therapies, counselors, and caring (not judging) loved ones, children don’t have to enter into the chapter after divorce alone. Already if a marriage has reached the tipping point of divorce, the children are living in distress. Avoiding divorce is not going to shield them from anything they’re not already experiencing.
Children of divorced parents can thrive, grow, and love.
Children of divorced parents do not have to come from “broken homes”—they can come from two whole ones.
Children of divorce can learn how to get through hard things, how to lean on someone for support. They can learn when something in their future inevitably comes to an end—relationships, jobs, school—they are capable of making it through and there is plenty of goodness on the other side.
A child of divorced parents can thrive in school, marry the loves of her life without fear of repeating any parental mistakes, have three beautiful children, and go on to write about it.
As you grieve the death of your relationship and the loss of the future you’d planned, please, allow yourself the freedom from guilt over what you’re “doing to” your children. You are standing up for yourself, for them, and showing them what it means to love yourself enough to create the home they need, not the home you feel obligated to provide. Remember, your children are also sitting at the top of the stairs, also listening from the back seat, and are not surprised that things were not well.
Whatever your circumstance, whatever your story, know while the first several steps of the journey through divorce are bumpy and hard and very, very emotional, they are not a death sentence for your children’s future. Forgive yourself, take a breath, and proceed with the confidence that you are not cursing your children, you are not hindering your children. Their paths will look different, as yours will, but with love and support, with understanding and communication, with time, your kids really will be OK.
And so will you.