I was raised in a Christian family by a loving Christian couple in the 90’s and early 2000’s. In the Midwest where there is a church on every corner, we grew up going to a Christian school and supportive church. It was in my early teenage years when divorce started to surround me. Four of my aunts and uncles got divorced, as well as a few close family friends. It was sad to see, but never did I think we would be next.
My parents had met at a Christian college and did what most couples did after graduating college…got married. My mom was bubbly and outgoing, while my dad was more reserved and introverted. I don’t know much of their early married years, but they seemed happy. My parents had me in their mid 20’s with my two siblings to follow in a few years. We had a great childhood where both parents were involved and supportive. We went on yearly camping trips, traveled to Disney World, and spent a lot of time together as a family. We felt loved and cared for. Not once did we see our parents fight. Looking back, we never really saw them hold hands or show affection either.
The summer before I turned 16, we were called together into the living room. I remember it so distinctly…the moment our lives turned upside down. They announced that they were taking a “break” to figure things out. That they loved us, but they would take turns living with us for a while. My mom cried, us kids cried and asked why. It was a shock to us. They never fought or seemed upset with each other. What happened?
Looking back you see things more clearly as an adult. Dad spent most nights after work downstairs on the computer. Mom poured everything into raising us, teaching, and her side day care gig. They spent little time together and rarely had date nights. They seemed to have very little communication other than about raising us. They had grown apart.
That first year they would rotate each week with who lived with us and who lived in a trailer in my grandparents’ trailer park. For a while my dad even slept in the basement which was super awkward and hard for us to wrap our heads around. We just carried on like it was okay and didn’t talk about it.
I remember near the end of their trial break up hearing them fight for the first time. We had never heard them fight before and I quickly grabbed my younger brother and sister and we left the house. We got in the car and I just drove us around as the sound of my mother begging and screaming at my dad resounded in our ears. I don’t remember what happened when we came back, I just remember the numbness. It was what we had to do to survive it.
Dad made the decision to end it. He wasn’t in love with my mom anymore. He said they never should have gotten married and he never truly loved her. He wasn’t happy, was depressed, and needed out. It would be better for us, he said. Mom fought it with all that she could, but in the end, his heart was hard. He moved out and bought a house just 5 minutes down the road.
He had talked to a few friends and one of my aunts who had gotten divorced and they encouraged him that it was best for him if he did. I wish I could tell those people how they so negatively impacted my life with those words. How their encouragement led to the ruin of my family and still has implications today. Do they even know what they did?
My siblings and I didn’t really talk about it. My parents definitely didn’t talk much about it. My mom was broken. She depended on my dad for so much and she was lost without his support. She spent most days crying. Dad seemed so happy and energized. He tried to buy us with all new clothes and our own bedrooms in his new house. It was easier being with him because we could keep being numb and pretend to be happy. But it was far from okay. The stress of moving back and forth every 3 weeks slowly drained us. When you forgot a shirt or instrument at the others’ house it was only 5 minutes away, but the reality of living out of a suitcase or our car still has its effects on me today. Anytime I travel I have to unpack right away. The idea of leaving my clothes in the suitcase and living out of it even for a few days brings me right back and causes anxiety. That has taken me a long time to understand.
Very soon after, my dad started bringing around a woman from work. My mom was devastated and angry. Apparently, my dad had been talking to her throughout their breakup and she was the one he leaned on “emotionally,” Aka…emotional affair is how I viewed it. Within a few weeks they were dating and months later, engaged. Married within a year. When asked how we felt about her moving in before the wedding we all put down a firm “no.” She was the opposite of our mom. We resented her and the even wider gap she caused in their marriage. But she was around all the time and eventually we spent a good amount of time with her. She would take us shopping, talk about boys, all the things we wished our mother would do. We were in their wedding and were introduced to our new step-brothers who were all older than us. We smiled and took pictures with strangers; thrust into a new family that we didn’t want. All the while pretending it was okay.
With all this adapting to new family and new lives we all coped in different ways. I escaped at friends’ houses and my boyfriend’s family. My sister threw herself into any and every after-school activity, sport, etc. My younger brother was stuck at home, playing video games to escape reality. I hated being the broken one. I hated people knowing that my parents were divorced and my family was broken. I spent so much time with other people’s families just trying to soak in their completeness. Pretending I got to go home to it as well afterwards. Surprisingly none of us acted out. We all acted like the good little boy and girls we were raised to be and trusted our parents to care for us. But every holiday, every milestone was tainted. My parents had to settle on who got us when. Anytime we left one, we left feeling guilty for leaving them alone, especially my mom. She took a lot of her emotions out on us. Saying that she should just die and we would be happy with my dad’s new family. I started to resent my mom and started talking to her less and less. I didn’t want to ever take friends over because I didn’t know what mood she would be in. I felt like I had to take over as a parent because she didn’t have the capacity. I remember my high school and college graduation and the pain it brought. I saw all my friends taking pictures with their smiling, whole families, and my mom and dad could hardly stand being in the same room. At one point at my college graduation my step-mom just left because of the tension. My siblings and I all took turns doing damage control anytime there was an event together. I feel like we didn’t get to really celebrate as we were always worried about who would get upset or start crying. None of us really wanted any of them there. The stress and anxiety that it caused still affects me today. Why did we have to carry that burden?
Fast forward 5 years into my dad’s 2nd marriage and there was trouble in their paradise. My dad traveled on occasion for work and he had been going to North Carolina more frequently. One weekend my dad was driving me back to college when he decided to tell me that he had had an affair with, again, someone he met through work while in North Carolina. I was furious. I said many hurtful things. Yelling at him, “why can’t you just keep it in your pants!” I was devastated knowing that I had to tell my siblings. That they would have to go through this hurt again. I wanted to protect them.
My dad and step-mom tried to work it out. I remember being home on another weekend and overhearing a conversation my step-mom had. She was retelling the story of how she found out my dad was having an affair. I remember the details. I remember wanting to plug my ears and ignore the hurt. But I sat on the stairs, listening, hearing her pain and hating my father for causing it. They never should have married in the first place I told myself. My dad hadn’t healed. He wasn’t healthy and we just wanted our dad to be our dad. After a year or two of counseling and making no progress, again my dad bailed. My step-mom couldn’t get past it he said and he was getting depressed again in an unhealthy marriage. We yelled at him and told her we’d rather stay with her. Again, we were being divided. We trusted him. We forged a relationship with a stranger, letting her in to be our pseudo mom when our mom couldn’t and now she was being ripped out of our lives. Another way to be torn. Another person to please.
We tried to hold onto a relationship with her as long as we could, but it was just too painful. She wanted to talk smack about our dad and know what he was up to. Seeing us was hard for her and she wanted to be involved in our lives, but at what cost? We slowly drifted, stopped talking, and she was cut from our lives as if she was just a blip, easily forgotten. But she wasn’t, and still isn’t. I wish she could have been at my wedding. I wish I could still call her and ask for advice, but I can’t.
As I wrapped up my last year of college, I felt it was time to have a serious conversation 1-1 with my dad. I invited him over to my house and shot it straight. I told him I loved him, but his choices have hurt me. I begged that he would take some time and be single so we could heal as a family. That I needed him to be my dad. He just sat and listened. He didn’t say much and I thought I had gotten through to him. But only a few months after their separation it happened again. I had been trying to get a hold of my dad to tell him about a new job interview I had, but he wasn’t picking up. It was so unlike him. I finally contacted my Grandma and an uncle to see if they knew where he was. Finally, he called me back and I asked where he was. He sounded so happy and said he was in North Carolina visiting a “friend.” It was then that I knew exactly what he was up to. I called him out. I yelled and asked “how could he?” I warned him what would happen if he spent time again with this woman who he had had an affair with. It was not a smart way to start a relationship. Did he not hear me before when I said he should stay single? Apparently not.
Once I told my siblings we decided to confront him together. This was enough. He had to hear us if we all did it together, right? I walked in and they were all sitting on the couch. I can’t remember exactly what we each said, but I know I was the angry one. My sister was the peace maker and my brother was the “whatever” responder. The conversation that stands out the most is when I told my dad that what he was doing was hurting us and we needed him to stop seeing her. I said either you pick us or her, thinking that was an easy decision. His words still haunt me. He said, “How could you ask me to make such a choice?” Really? Your children or this woman who you had an affair with? He was so hard-hearted and blind to how he was affecting our lives. He was confused how his dating life had any effect on us. He was so wrong, but we didn’t know how to show him. We cried, we begged, and got nowhere.
I ended up trying to escape it and moved to California for a job. I thought this would distance me from the drama and pain. Of course it didn’t work. I still got texts and phone calls from my sibling about what was going on. I refused to talk to my dad for a year. I ignored his calls, emails, and texts. Eventually he stopped trying. I told myself I was making healthy boundaries. He made his choice and I made mine. I wanted no part in his relationship with her. He continued to go visit her in North Carolina. Eventually, I got the news that they were engaged. I was a wreck. How could he marry this woman? How could he expect us to open up not only to another stranger but the one who broke up his relationship with our step-mom? No. Not going to happen.
I remember clearly one summer I came home and spent the day at the beach on the 4th of July with my sister. All of a sudden we see my dad walking on the shore with her. We turned our face to the sand and looked away, hoping he wouldn’t see us. He walked over to us and kicked us with sand to get our attention. Acting all silly and goofy like it was no big deal. We ignored him. We didn’t look at him. He walked away. I saw it as the physical representation of him leaving us for her. Picking her over us. It broke my heart as I saw him walk away from us with her. I can still picture it.
I eventually went to counselling to help me work through all of these feelings. It helped me to take ownership of my actions as well as start to let go of trying to control my dad. I couldn’t tell him what to do or give him ultimatums. I could only try to have my own healthy boundaries and control myself. I’m still working on that. They got married, but none of us went. She moved in with him and my brother got stuck again in the mix as he was the youngest and still in high school. My mom seemed fine with it. This woman didn’t do anything to her and she could see how messed up my dad was. We were no longer this “happy family” that he tried to hold together before.
I went years not getting to spend any time with my dad alone. She didn’t trust him. I heard countless stories from my siblings of awful things she said and did to him. Chasing him in his car and screaming at him. Writing passive aggressive notes. He just put up with it. He felt he deserved it and even if he was unhappy, he couldn’t get a 3rd divorce. It makes me so sad. It all came true what I had predicted, that starting a relationship on lies and secrets led to guilt and the inability to trust. She monitors all his emails, texts, and phone calls. The only time he can call us is on his way home from work. We rarely get an answer on how he is doing because of his fear of her hearing him. He is trapped.
He hates his job, and has been on the brink of depression. They go through lots of ups and downs. Lots of threats of leaving. I don’t know what I want for him anymore. I pray that he finds his identity in Christ instead of in relationships. I want him in my life. I acknowledge her now. I don’t put in effort to have a relationship with her, but I try to be nice. For him.
I am now almost 30 years old. I have lived my life now longer with them divorced than with them together. As I look back now I see the impact divorce (multiple) has had on me. I have grown in positive ways, and seen the negative effects too. I have grown stronger and more independent. I have learned to rely on others and ask for help when needed. I have used the pain and hurt to help other kids dealing with divorce. As a camp counselor and now teacher, I use my experience to share empathy and give comfort. I see all the mistakes my parents made and have used it to make better choices in my own relationships. I put communication as a number one priority. It helped me to build a strong relationship with my now husband as I tried desperately to learn from them.
I’m still learning what negative impacts there have been. Obviously, it affected my dating life. I had a hard time always trusting people and have had a lifelong fear of abandonment. I hang on tightly to anyone I can. I still cry sometimes at the loss. The holidays are hard. My wedding was hard. The birth of my future children will be hard. I will forever be grieving those things. I fear for my marriage and that of my siblings. I don’t want us to continue the cycle. It has to end. We didn’t have much of an example though, so I try to get mentors and read as many books as I can to be better, to be stronger, to last.