When a relationship has come to its ultimate end, there are many different perspectives that are usually communicated as adults typically don’t have an issue describing how they feel. While this is generally the perspective that creates the final decision on whether a relationship moves forward or divorce is imminent, a different weight is applied when a child is involved. The perspective of the child is one that takes a backseat because the reasons for divorce are “adult” decisions. While we will all agree that’s the case, it’s important to be empathetic to what’s going on in a child’s mind while they are living through a divorce..
My divorce experience, although not too unique at this point in our culture, my parents were divorced long before I could walk or talk. I was less than a year old. However, the fall out lasted until I graduated college. I wouldn’t consider this trauma. I’m still here at 44 willing to talk about it. I will admit that there were last memories that shaped the way I am today. Not all of the “qualities” that my upbringing created are good, but some offer a different type of grit that one couldn’t have without this experience.
To expand on my personal history. As I noted, my parents were divorced within the first 18 months of my being born. The first years were relatively rough. Drawing on a 44 year old memory, there were many altercations and struggles for custody during the divorce process and after. I don’t remember exactly where I lived immediately and who was given custody. My first clear memories were living with my Dad and grandparents at their home while my mom had visitation rights. During these visitations, there were some events that I still recall that involved other adults unrelated to me which are ingrained in my mind..
My Dad remarried and we moved into a small house on the other side of town. We lived behind Tilly and beside my best friend Tommy at the time. After kindergarten, we moved 3 hours away where I spent the rest of my grade school years in a beautiful town in Oakland, Maryland. At first, the transition was extremely difficult for me as would be expected for any child leaving the only life they knew. My mom still had visitation rights. Every other weekend and 6 weeks in the summer. I knew this was difficult for my parents. But, that’s the way it was. It wasn’t the visitations that are memorable to me at this age. To be honest, it was the constant leaving. Leaving my family, then a couple weeks later, leaving them again. Having my friends, and leaving them also.
Regardless of the positive spin that either my mom or my dad tried to put on the situation, it always sank deep and stuck with me. It’s likely the reason why I have a hardened perspective on dragging up and moving on now.
Without digging too much into my high school and college years, things are better now. Even though a second marriage wound up in divorce during my finals week of my senior year of college, I graduated and moved on.. After college, I was able to develop a balance and a good relationship with both sides of my family. The negativity I lived with isn’t a part of my life. As an adult, I was able to draw a line and put my foot down. There weren’t necessarily efforts to suppress any of the memories, just a desire to not relive them.
I now maintain a good relationship with both parents, my sister, and two brothers. It’s weird that my wife used to babysit my brothers long before I even knew her. My children have a great relationship with both my parents and siblings even though we live 13 hours from the nearest one. I make it a priority to shelter them from any kind of fallout but that has not been an issue. I’m also very open with them about how life was before them. Just because they don’t live it, doesn’t mean that they can’t understand it. You never know what your friend’s homelife really looks like.
There is always a point in parenting when someone tells you to mind your words because “someone” is listening. Never has this advice rung more true than during a divorce process. When your child reaches an age when they can respond intelligently to questions or instructions, they are listening to what you have to say. They are watching your every move. I remember some of the more admirable traits I learned from both parents where I categorize them into “what not to do” or the good ones. I also remember some distinct memories of being a single digit kid popping off with some material that a family member gave me against the other. These didn’t turn out well.
Let me start by saying, living in the fallout of a divorce is a very difficult way to develop your personality.
As I noted above, my upbringing created this innate ability to be able to drag up and move on. This can be good when you see something isn’t worth the time and negative impact can affect your path forward. The quicker you recognize if someone or something isn’t worth your energy, the better off you’ll be.
I’ve developed a pretty good sense for people and whether they are full of sh*t or not. I firmly believe it’s more important to be genuine than always being cool or right. Through a divorce, people show their true colors and motivations.
I learned quickly that, just because someone is an adult, doesn’t make them right all the time. Sometimes, the inexperienced mind of a child is what we really need.
Luckily, instead of falling the other direction, I was able to develop a sense of grit. This isn’t always the case. It came later in life but the quality of not giving up and pressing through what’s in front of you has made me somewhat successful. If you grow up with always feeling like you’re getting sh*t on, you eventually get sick of it and are destined to prove everyone wrong. Hopefully that transition has a good motivation behind it.
These are just the good. There are bad qualities that are mixed in. Trust issues, temper issues, and the inability to grasp some of the soft skills that require more nurturing. If you’re an adult, you can recognize these easily.
Like it or not, you are THE adult. Your child didn’t put themselves in this situation. Make sure they understand this. Make sure YOU understand this. DO NOT weaponize your child during or after a divorce. This is the worst feeling a child can have and is the one thing that can break their spirit. Be very aware of this. Outside of taking your anger or pain of the relationship out on your child, this is the single misstep a parent (or grandparent) can take. This comes in many forms. If you have to ask yourself if you’re doing it, you likely are.
As an adult, you enter a relationship knowing very well that break-ups suck. If divorce comes to fruition, regardless of the cause, do everything in your power to not drag your child across the coals too. A child won’t always pick up on this. Looking back, it’s pretty obvious what was happening. Whether it’s intentional or not, be very mindful of this. Your child will grow up and be able recall these times.
Look, this goes without saying. But, all of the things discussed above can be multiplied when an immature mind is trying their damndest to find where they actually fit. Divorce creates a different atmosphere and stress than most are ready for. Again, as an adult, you’ve created this situation. Maybe the divorce is happening during your child’s teenage years. They may be more understanding or even agree that it’s the right thing. But, you have to maintain your parental stature because they need guidance now as much as they did earlier. It will be much more difficult for them than they think. And they are making strides at this point that will affect the rest of their lives.Your attitude may just be the key to their transition.
My teenage years were weird. Sports dominated the landscape. But, some of the guidance I was given, I still disagree with. Family is family, regardless of which side you’re on. Unless you’re going into the NFL or MLS or any other pro sport at 13, figure out how to not compromise. Visitation already makes you miss out on a lot.
This is a difficult article to write because of the memories I had to dig up to put it out there. But, I believe they are ultimately important for all to hear. When I grew up, this was an oddity. Divorce seems more prevalent these days. I won’t say it’s a norm, but it’s definitely nothing surprising to hear that your friend’s parents are divorced. When I grew up, I was the weird kid with a second life somewhere else because my parents were divorced.. Maybe that’s how I thought people saw me and I was just actually weird.
My wedding day was pretty awesome because I was getting married to my wife of 18 years currently, but it was also the first time in my memory bank that I sat in front of a room of people and could say “Mom and Dad”. It was pretty cool being able to do that while looking at them. Yes, 25 years old and that was a memorable part of my wedding.
It’s ok that my parents aren’t together. It’s not weird at all. It’s my life, and theirs. And it allows me the ability to teach my kids something that not all kids get. And let’s be honest, as a kid, who doesn’t want to have two Christmases or birthday’s. That part is hugely beneficial. I’ll say, divorce helped mold me into what I am today. But, I’ll never make it a point to be a professional on divorce statistics or the standards of divorce facts.
There are many ways to approach the transition of divorice one’s life. But, one needs to be mindful about the lasting effects that those decisions will make. As this life changing decision is becoming more popular and divorce rate rises, remember that it’s not just about the two adults. A divorce isn’t just a means to an end for some. It’s a source of confusion and difficulty for the child involved. Some courts will appoint a psychologist to help monitor and guide the child through the divorce. Depending on the situation, they may be used to determine the child’s best interest. But, not all will do this. If you have the opportunity, take it. You can learn a lot about your child and yourself.
It’s ultimately up to the parents to live the choices they make. Having a child together was the first. As much as you would like your child to grasp the entirety of the situation, they don’t. Heck, I don’t personally believe that adults do. Granted, all situations are different. But one situation remains the same. If a child has to go through this, keep in mind that they are fragile and will eventually remember everything. Be present. Regardless of how hard it is for you, someone who doesn’t understand is confused and looking up to you for guidance. It’s your responsibility to create a healthy balance during a divorce and check your ego at the door.
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This is a time when you earn your stripes.
Do you have advice for fathers going through this? Leave a comment below.