Adult children of divorce

“Mom and I are splitting up…” my dad’s voice cracked. “What?” I choked back.

I was already halfway through my first semester of university when I got the call from my dad telling me him and my mom split up. The world slowed down at that point. I could feel the cold, hard wall behind my back, the warm blankets of my bed under my legs. I barely heard what my dad was telling me. I heard my heart beating and the air in my lungs. It took me a while before it settled in. Then all I wanted to do was cry. My chest hurt and my head pounded. Listening to my mom’s tears over the phone was hard because I couldn’t do anything for her. And listening to my sister was the worst, because as much as I wanted to tell her it would be OK, I knew it wouldn’t be. I didn’t even know what to do for myself. I sat on my floor in a crying, snotty, heap with a bottle of wine.

Being a child of the digital age, I, of course, Googled what to do and all I could find was advice for young kids going through it. I did however come across one article from Connections.Mic saying how when you are an adult child of divorce, it can actually be much harder. Your whole childhood is shattered before your very eyes. That just made me feel worse, and I decided not to do any more Google research. But then, I started to think, “is it actually worse? And why? And who else and how many others are going through what I’m going through?”

Something I find hard is that I am an adult myself and can see my parents are no longer perfect. As a child, I believed my parents had everything figured out and would be together forever. As an adult, I could see the flaws in their marriage, understand the hurt they felt from their fights and knew in the back of my mind that something wasn’t working. Even though I suspected a split, it still came as a complete shock to my system when it actually happened.

Because I am older, my parents confide in me more and probably tell me things I don’t actually want to hear. Especially my dad. My dad had an affair when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember much but I remember hating that other woman and praying that my parents wouldn’t split up. They made it work for another 7 years, and I give them credit for that. Within weeks of my parents splitting, my dad already had a girlfriend. This created a lot of anger and resentment between my sister and I towards him. He kept trying to talk to us about her and his new life, but we were still getting used to the fact that our family just imploded and were not in a place to accept this woman, especially so soon after.

He tried to justify running to another woman after leaving our mom, and it just made me angrier. My head was screaming, “How can you think this is okay? What makes you think running to another woman after 23 years of marriage is perfectly moral and acceptable?” That put a wedge in the relationship we had with our dad. We weren’t comfortable talking to him about his life and we were so hurt and angry that it was hard to accept anything unfamiliar. We lost a lot of respect for him that sadly still has yet to be fully regained. It also put a wedge in our extended families, my dad has no contact with his parents or my mom’s parents but both sets of grandparents are still close with each other. This complicates things for my sister and I further because our grandparents our quite involved in the drama and have talked to us about it.

All these different emotions were rampaging through my mind. Anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness, confusion, mistrust. I replayed my childhood over and over, trying to piece together what was genuine and what my parents put on for show.

When my family blew up, all these secrets came pouring out of the wound, making it hard to know what to believe and what to trust.

Each parent was telling me something different, and then his or her own parents were also telling me something different. Who could I believe? I hurt just trying to piece together the truth and distinguish the lies.

Not only was I dealing with my parents splitting, I felt I had to be strong for my younger sister, who was completely distraught over the news. I tried to make her laugh the next time I saw her. I avoided talking about the situation to make her happy, which made it worse for me. But that was how I coped. I put on a happy face, pushed the problem and emotions to the side so I could help others first. I craved distraction and living away from home gave me that because I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand. I built my own life in Calgary and focused on school and a social life. The divorce still loomed in the back of my mind, though.

It was awkward; it still is awkward dealing with the situation. Every time I go home for the holidays, emotions come up to the surface and I usually end up having a “talk” with dad or a huge rant with my mom. Both, I’m finding are starting to become unhealthy. My dad’s “talks” turn into him justifying his actions and making excuses, or making me feel as if “I don’t understand.” It’s worse because I actually understand it now; I am not a naïve child anymore. The “talk” usually ends in tears and me screaming at him because he will not listen to me.

My mom’s talks, even though we are on the same page, sometimes fuel my anger and hurt. I listen to her stories and she listens to mine, and she gets angry because she can’t stand seeing her children go through this, and then I’m angry because she’s angry. Every holiday has been like this. I looked forward to having a break from the drama of my home life when school resumed. This year, now that I have found a comfortable place to live that I enjoy, I don’t go home as much. But, being able to leave the drama makes me feel guilty.

Unfortunately, my younger sister still lives at home, and is thrown in with all the action. She’s the one that has to choose which parent to stay with, hear both of them ranting about the other, and deal with my dad when she comes across a picture of him with his girlfriend and her kids.

She’s young and a lot more sensitive than I am and it has been hard for her. She has no escape and she has to deal with the frustrations of our parents first-hand, a lot more than me.

It has now been a year since my parents split up. My dad has a new girlfriend, even though my sister and I refuse to meet her or accept her. The relationship between my dad and me is getting better, but it is hard to have respect for him, knowing what I know and seeing how he hurt me and my mom and sister. I have developed a stronger relationship with my mom through all of this. I realized I am a lot like her and we have a lot in common with how we deal with stressful situations and cope.

I asked my parents about the situation and what they thought. Both of my parents have realized that this has been quite hard for me, and are starting to think that being an adult makes things more difficult because I’m older and can understand relationships and the work that goes into them. “I think you are struggling with it. Struggling to understand it all and struggling with your feelings, well towards dad and towards the male gender in general because of it,” my mom said. My mom explained that because I don’t live at home anymore, it could be easier for me with being able to distance myself. However, she says that being an adult means I think like an adult and can understand morals and relationships better, which makes the experience a lot more real for me. She predicts it will be harder for me moving forward with relationships, as I could have trust issues and could be picky with whom I end up. She thinks I will have a hard time knowing if someone really is being genuine and if I can rely on him to be with me through thick and thin.

My dad and I don’t talk much about the situation because a lot of my anger and the repercussions have been towards him and from his actions. So, I was surprised when he told me how he thinks I have been. He thinks I’ve coped fairly well, with distance and my maturity and age. He thought leaving now would have made things easier on me, but now he sees that is not the case. “I almost think that it might have been easier if you were younger. A lot younger though. Like little,” my dad said. I can agree with that. I think if I had been really young and had always grown up in a split home, it would have been easier. I would not have understood and that would have been my normal. Instead, I’m an adult and suddenly have to adjust to there no longer being a family, but still have all these childhood memories of the four of us together. My dad really thinks this split will impact my future. I will be more cautious and again have the trust issue. He thinks it could take a while for someone to gain my full trust.

Talking to my parents will take time. My mom is easy to talk to because we share similar opinions, but it has taken me a long time to talk to my dad. And still, I do not feel completely able to talk to him. I struggle with getting across my opinion and I have a hard time verbally expressing my frustrations and hurt in a way that he will listen.

I know that with time, things will get better. And hopefully, someday, I will find a new normal and will find a way to get past all that has happened.

Even though it has been a year, things are still being figured out. There’s always going to be the question, “which parent to go stay with? Which parent to live with over summer holidays when I go home? Who to stay with for Christmas or Thanksgiving?” Not to mention what things will be like at graduations, mine or my sister’s weddings or the birth of our future children. With my parents on the outs with each other and grandparents and extended family on the outs with my dad, the situation becomes a lot more complicated than just a divorce.

All I can really do, though, is focus on me. I know it’s selfish, but I am living on my own and need to make a life for myself. I really try to focus on my schooling so I can get a good career. The last thing my parents need is to worry about me not having an education or a life on their account.