Portions have been edited.
I was twenty-two when it happened. The one thing in my life that I had been wishing for all along had become a reality. It sounds kind of twisted to say this, but it should have happened sooner. No one in the situation was happy and it was becoming increasingly frustrating to keep up the charade. I was twenty-two when my father called me to tell me that he was filing for divorce from my mother. I am now an adult child of divorce.
Adult children of divorce are typically thought of as those whose parents divorce after the point at which one reaches adulthood (generally aged 21+). Adult children of divorce can also be classified as those whose parents divorced when they were children, but still have difficulty processing the divorce. There is lots of research done on children of divorce, focusing mainly on adolescents and teens. Adult children of divorce were rarely considered in this research because later life divorce was somewhat uncommon. With the recent prevalence of later life divorce, there is being more attention placed on adult children of divorce. This research is mainly dedicated to disproving the myths associated with adult children of divorce.
The most common myth is that since adult children are grown and mature, they won’t experience the emotions that young children do. Parents generally think that when their children are older, that details regarding the marriage are easier to digest. That is untrue. No child, whether they are seven or seventy-two really wants to know all about the dynamics of their parents marriage. My father and I rarely talk about my mother. It is best for him this way, he says. I recently sat down with him and we talked of my mother briefly. He said that in order for him to maintain the amount of respect that he still holds for her that it is best that he removes her from his life completely for now.
When I heard about the split, my mother was the first to start confiding in me. She began under the guise of trying to build a stronger mother-daughter relationship. It started off innocently enough, every once in a while she would bring up my father. She usually began by asking how he was and then going into a diatribe about he doesn’t care about her and wants nothing to do with her. I had to hear all about how he was supposedly unfaithful throughout the duration of their marriage while she worked her hardest to do any and everything for him. All of which were lies, as I’d long realized that she started caring less and less for him as I got older. Every conversation would have the same phrase repeated at least three times throughout, “I’m not trying to make your father out to be the bad guy.” Then she would continue bashing him. In almost every conversation that I have with my mother (we talk once weekly), my father is brought up in some fashion. I usually try to change the subject or avoid it altogether.
My childhood was not atypical, but not quite typical. I noticed the peculiarity of my parents’ relationship early on, I think. I can remember spending time with my friends and their parents and knowing that there was something there that was lacking in my parents relationship. My mother and father never had any pet names for each other or showed immense amounts of affection towards each other. When they did do either of these things, it seemed forced. They often had disagreements where they would not speak to each other for days at a time. They had a brief separation when I was about eight or nine years old, but I never thought anything of it. There was so much going on in our lives from my other siblings and their problems that I figured that they just needed a break from each other. I never thought that thirteen years later it would be a separation for good.
Initially, I was overjoyed. I’d seen the cracks in their relationship and often wondered why they were still together. After talking with my father to find out why he had finally come to this decision, my feelings about the divorce changed somewhat. He basically said that they were only together for so long for my sake. During their brief separation, my father later said that he knew that he had to be a part of my day-to-day life. Apparently, I had displayed some behaviors that he thought would be detrimental to my growth had it just been my mother who was raising me. I immediately felt pangs of guilt. The feeling of guilt is not uncommon for adult children of divorce. I felt like I was the cause for so much unhappiness in both of their lives.
I think one of the most difficult things that I had to deal with was the fact that I had to accept all the things that came along with this divorce. While I had anticipated it coming, I wasn’t fully prepared to accept other feelings that I would have. Researching a bit, I came across some common feelings of divorced children. Some of these feelings include, but are not limited to: feeling a loss of “home”, fears of abandonment and betrayal, difficulty accepting love, avoidance of close relationships, and doubting of one’s own ability to have a happy marriage.
I feel all of these on a regular basis. The hardest thing for me was the sale of our house. My parents and I lived in that house for 20 years. All of my memories are cemented in that house. I know that some people say that memories will always be in your mind, but there is nothing like going home. I am no longer able to pull up to [address redacted], search for a parking space on the right side of the street, and unlock the door to a house. Instead I now spread my time between two apartments. Technically, I live with my mother, as I have a room in her house. I considered both places my home, though. Sometimes, I feel bad because when I come home for weekends and/or breaks, my time is usually limited and I have to pick one place or the other to stay. More often than not, I stay at my mother’s place and barely see my dad.
Hiding these feelings from everyone, I constantly denied feeling anything when people would ask me how I felt about the split. I bought into the philosophy that I should not really feel anything because I am an adult. It is not like I am in the middle of some great custody battle. I barely live at home as I am in school for nine months of the year. When I am at home, I am in and out so much that their problems should not affect me, but they do. I constantly question if I’m offending one or the other when I do anything. I’m unsure as to how the future will end up. I still have college graduation, my wedding, and eventual birth of my children. I will have to work out how to have both parents present (possibly with new significant others) with the least amount of friction.