Divorce is never easy for any family. Growing up, I had a few friends whose parents got divorced while we were in elementary school and I remember thinking how lucky I was that I had parents that were still together. I heard about them having to split their time to spend school nights with one parent and weekends with the other while holidays became a battle. It was hard for me to understand at the time what being a child of divorce was like, but all of that changed when I was I was 24. Here’s what happened when my parents ended their marriage when I was an adult.
It made me question my childhood.
I realized that for my entire life, I had always just expected that my parents would stay together. Of course they had fights and difficulties while I was growing up, but they always seemed to work through it. I recall having a mostly happy childhood and a loving family, but as an adult, I started to wonder if it had all been a lie. I started to think that maybe I was remembering things incorrectly and that maybe there were signs all along that things would turn out like this. I was worried that my parents might have stayed together not because they loved each other but for my brother and I.
It made me feel like a kid again, and not in a good way.
Even though I was 24 when my parents officially split up, I immediately felt like a child again. It didn’t matter that I was going to medical school in a different state from my family and living in my own house with my boyfriend. My mind automatically went back to that little girl again who crawled into my parents’ bed at night to stay safe from monsters, who went to Disney on family vacations, and who had dinner every night with my parents and brother at the kitchen table. I felt vulnerable now that my life would be different and I had no idea what to expect.
It was a different house to go home to.
When my parents got divorced, they sold our family home. It was the house that I had grown up in for nearly 20 years and that my parents had designed and built together from the ground up. We had so many good memories of it and never being able to come back to it for a visit in my hometown was very difficult. Each of my parents moved into their own townhouse and had a bed in their basement for me when I came to visit, but it wasn’t the same. Their new homes just didn’t feel familiar to me or that I had a place in their new lives.
Holidays with extended family had to be rearranged.
I come from a big Italian family which means that family events and holidays are enormous and numerous. Growing up, it was hard enough to find the time to attend all of the events but once my parents split, it got even more difficult. I had to rearrange holidays to make sure that when I came home to visit, I got to see each of my parents since they wouldn’t be in the same place at the same time. Plus once my boyfriend’s family was thrown into the mix, juggling everything became even more tricky. We’ve now worked out a balance with each of our families that benefits them but often leaves us run ragged.
I had to learn how to have a new family.
I think that above everything else, the most difficult thing to come to terms with was that my parents would each move on and be in new relationships. That means a new family comes along for the ride. For 24 years, I knew that I had a mom, a dad, and a brother. That was my family. Recently, my dad got engaged to a very nice woman who also has a son and a daughter. The four of them live together in my dad’s house and even though I know it’s not true, it feels like my dad found a replacement family.
It made me see my parents as humans and not superheroes.
For most of my life, I had viewed my parents as Superman and Wonder Woman. They were able to handle anything and everything. If something bad happened in our family, they dealt with it together and I thought they were able to fix whatever was broken. They were invincible to me. Now, as an adult myself, I realize just how hard life is and that no matter how much you plan, things can turn out much differently than you expected even with the best of intentions. My parents are human beings that have made mistakes and will continue to make them. They have loved and lost but have both always done their best and that is all I could ever hope for.
It made me reevaluate my own relationship.
I had known my boyfriend for about four years when my parents got divorced. We had talked about getting engaged excitedly at length. But once my parents split, I became very cynical about the institution of marriage in general, convinced that every relationship would eventually end. It was during this time in my life that I felt the most lost but also realized how much I loved my boyfriend. He was so patient, kind, and loving even though we had to pump the brakes on our future plans because of my fears. He never pressured me to commit to him and that is what made me realize how individually special our relationship was and still is. This past December (nearly two years later), we got engaged and I couldn’t be happier.
It encouraged me to go to therapy.
Any type of life change can bring a lot of emotional stress to a person’s life and I realized pretty early on that I was not dealing with my parents’ divorce well. My doctor recommended a fantastic therapist and I started to see her. I began to work through the feelings that I buried deep inside and it helped me to find a way to be able to deal with the negative emotions I was experiencing in a healthy way. It helped me to find ways to not sabotage my own relationship because of my fears. Therapy is something that I recommend to anyone and everyone. Working through childhood issues is so cathartic and helps you to find a peaceful life balance.
I began to appreciate my relationship with each of my parents separately.
For so long, I viewed my parents as a single unit. Together they had a daily routine, they disciplined and raised my brother and me, and when we spent time together it was usually as a whole family. After they got divorced, there was no choice but to spend time with each of my parents separately. It became one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. I found a level of depth with each of my parents individually that I had not experienced when they were a couple. It helped me to realize that even if they aren’t together, I am 50% of each of them. I happen to think that they are each wonderful in their own way and I am blessed to be a combination of them.
I realized I had to find my own life path.
Through my parents’ divorce, I learned a lot about my family, my relationship, and above all, myself. I’ve found that the only way through is to keep moving forward. I had a wonderful childhood that shaped me to be the woman that I am today. I look at those memories with love and will always hold them close. Now though, I have to find my own way in life and with my relationship. I’ve seen my parents’ mistakes and will learn from them rather than be bitter about them. I’ve come to realize that my life path is separate from my parents’ life path. I don’t need to have the same story as them because I can write a different ending.
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