I was nine years old when my parents told me they were getting a divorce.
I was coming home from summer camp. I’d had a horseback-riding accident at camp and fell on my arm. I needed to see a doctor. My parents picked me up together. I told them about my arm, but they seemed distracted and didn’t want to talk about it. When we got home, they sat me down on the couch across from them, and told me my mother had a boyfriend and they were going to be living separately.
It didn’t seem real.
I was about to start middle school (early, since I’d skipped a grade), and I needed them to be there for me. Except they weren’t; they weren’t paying attention to my broken arm, or my needs, it was all about them. I’d loved and trusted both of my parents when I was a kid, but after this I didn’t feel like I could trust them. I knew they needed me to seem okay, but I wasn’t okay.
I asked questions, but they didn’t give straight answers. They wouldn’t hug me or touch me.
I told them I didn’t want them to get divorced, but I didn’t have a choice. My mom had been staying at her friend’s place, and she was going there. They told me they were going to take turns visiting me while they worked things out.
Eventually I got up and went to my bedroom. I had a friend from camp whose parents had gotten divorced a few years earlier. I called her up and broke down and cried, and she comforted me. She didn’t try to sugar-coat things; it was going to be rough. I trusted her; I didn’t trust my parents any more.
I didn’t have any siblings, or many friends, so it’s hard to have perspective on what happened. My parents were both technically geniuses– my father was an engineer, my mother was a psychotherapist. My mother had a great deal of social intelligence; which unfortunately meant that she believed in her own theories and refused to look at evidence to the contrary.
My mother firmly believed that divorce was not a big deal: after all, people are living longer, and it makes sense not to want the same partner for more than twenty years. She knew plenty of celebrities who had been married four, five, even eight times; why shouldn’t she have as many marriages as she liked? She didn’t understand why my father and I were so upset about it.
The more I talked to my parents separately, the more their stories about the divorce did not match up. I found out that my mother had been having an affair for over a year with a much younger man, and now she wanted to marry him. My mother lied to me about details (my stepfather was much younger than her, and she initially lied about his age) to try to whitewash things; when my father told me the truth, she blamed him for “putting me in the middle.” But I was going to find out the truth anyways; I was offended and hurt that she would lie to me.
My parents’ first fight was over my broken arm. My father wanted to take me to see a doctor; my mother didn’t think it was a big deal. Eventually I saw a doctor and had x-rays. My arm was broken, and has still never healed correctly. My father was furious with my mother for not paying enough attention and being too distracted with her boyfriend; my mother blamed me for having a high pain tolerance and not screaming.
This, as it turned out, would set the tone for the rest of my childhood.
I was initially furious with my mother. I blamed her for breaking up my family. I didn’t want to live with her; I wanted to live with my father. I had screaming fits when I had to stay with my mother or visit her, or whenever she touched me. My father’s friends were trying to talk him into getting primary custody of me.
My mother lost friends over this; even her relationship with her own mother. My grandfather supported my mom, but didn’t seem to care about me at all. Once he threatened to shoot my father in front of me; another time he threatened to take back the money that he’d set aside to help me pay for college if my father didn’t give my mother what she wanted.
I was terrified and couldn’t cope; I felt like I didn’t matter to anyone around me. I was having behavioral problems in school; if it hadn’t been for a few heroic teachers, I probably would have run away from home or committed suicide.
My father backed down and agreed to a no-fault divorce. My mother kept the house, her boyfriend moved in with her and married her. I was supposed to spend every other week with my father, but I ended up seeing him much less often because I couldn’t get to school easily from his place.
Gradually, my father was edged out of my life; I saw him on weekends, or had dinner with him on weeknights, and that was it.
My mother married her boyfriend. He was thirty-one; she was nearly fifty. My stepfather and I became close– he was genuinely a nice person, and treated me like a person rather than just a reflection on himself– but his marriage to my mother only lasted a few years. When I found out he’d be leaving too, I was crushed. I began seeing him on weekends and weeknights too, just like my father. I resolved not to get close to anyone else my mother dated, because I didn’t trust her to stay with anyone.
I was an emotional wreck as a teenager. I put all of my energy into school and getting good grades so that I could go to a decent college far away from my parents; but because my home life was so chaotic, I couldn’t get rides to community college classes or extracurricular activities, and worried that my resume wasn’t going to be strong enough to get into a competitive college. I hated myself. I blamed myself for the divorce, and wished I were dead.
My mother insisted that I must be mentally ill; there was absolutely no reason for me to be unhappy. My symptoms didn’t fit the pattern for clinical depression or anxiety; I had plenty of energy and no trouble concentrating or focusing, I just wanted to die. I started taking antidepressants (generally not recommended for preteens because they increase suicidal ideation). They didn’t work, so I started taking Adderall too, then an entire cocktail of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and tranquilizers. Nothing helped; I was just tired and sick all the time now.
My parents were fighting constantly about my treatment. My mother wanted my father to pay for it; my father thought my mother was making it up and abusing me with all of the drugs. They never saw each other, but they’d call up each other on the phone and scream at each other.
When I was thirteen, I made a suicide gesture. I spent four days in a locked psychiatric ward for children. I didn’t fit the symptoms of depression, or bipolar disorder; I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, but didn’t get treatment for it until I was an adult, because my mother didn’t believe the divorce could be traumatic.
My experience with psychiatry made one thing clear: kids with severe mental health issues rarely come from “normal” families. Most of us lived with a parent and stepparent; others had single parents; some didn’t have parents at all. The kids I went to school with almost all lived with their mother and father; the ones that didn’t all had their own demons.
I coped. I went to college; got some distance from my family; had time to process and figure things out. It still took me a long time to form healthy relationships with other people; I grew up in a world where marriage didn’t mean anything, and nobody stuck around for very long.
In my twenties I experimented with polyamory; I thought for a long time that if my mother and father had just had an open relationship, her relationship with my stepfather could have fizzled out naturally and my family structure would have stayed intact. Nontraditional relationships have their own problems, though; and I don’t trust anyone who insists that the kids are fine with it.
Right now, I’m not on good terms with my mother, but I’ve recently rebuilt a relationship with my father and his second wife. I wish that none of this had happened; everyone told me that divorce “doesn’t hurt kids,” and I didn’t feel like my pain was real or justified. But it was; there’s no such thing as a “good divorce.”
I am so sorry to hear this Laura. All you can do is keep your chin up. I am a father of six children with a life-long marriage of 37 years. I would suggest reading the Gospel of John to find the compassionate Savior that we all need.
A lot of this is nonsense. I’m having a really tough time believing any of this. None of it makes any sense. I don’t believe a 9yo reacted like that to divorce, I don’t believe the hyperbole of “no one stuck around for long”, I don’t believe the treatment was actual treatment and it sounds like your problems came from your mom, not from divorce, such as it is.
This whole thing reads like alarmist rhetoric propaganda.
If you haven’t lived it then you are incapable of really understanding the grief & terror that a child experiences when a “bomb” drops on her life & all the love & security is shattered.
I’m 82 years old. I have never forgotten the pain of my parents’ divorce when I was seven & never allow myself to relive it. I have had a long, good marriage, four solid children so I have had healing from that & a close relationship with God.
Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t make it untrue. This woman shared her heartache in order to help others. You are not her, and you cannot accuse her of hyperbole; she explained both her history as well as her feelings. Your conclusion is simply your opinion based on ignorance.
If you don’t believe it, you never lost a parent through divorce. It is a pain that never goes away. My mom left when I was four. The feelings of a child who suffers this kind of loss don’t ever go away. They leave a life long effect, even to the next generation.
If you don’t think it’s real, I challenge you to read more voices. They are shockingly similar. I wouldn’t not have believed how similar, and how awful, if I hadn’t collected the stories of the 70 now-adult children of divorce myself. Here is the book, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, for free and entire:
My parents recently divorced after 29 years of marriage and it really tore my family apart. Even so, I am glad that it didn’t happen when I was young. It happened when I had a husband and children and relationships that could sustain me. It’s so wrong for this to happen to anyone, but I do believe that divorce is horrible for children. May God heal you from those wounds as only He can.
My parents divorc d when i was 39 and pregnant with my eighth child, in a new city where we knew no one. My husband would sometimes zip home during lunch to hold me while i sobbed. My parents’ dysfunction was a continual drain on my emotions, as they dragged us kids into everything, and i feel for my oldest son, especially. Instead of getting the attention and support he could have benefitted from, he got the best i could give while my parents continually slammed at me with sledgehammers. I was told the divorce was my fault (because i had suggested marital counselling first), and when my mom came to my house and attacked me verbally for two hours the day before i gave birth, that last little string just twanged and broke. I am no contact with my family of origin. There is nothing lifegiving there, only poison.
God hates divorce. He does because of what it does to all involved. People give up too easily on their marriages. If you don’t love your spouse anymore the Lord, who lives in you an loves your spouse, can love him or her through you. Love is patient and kind and forgives and does not return bad for bad. Pray and don’t give up.
Forgiveness does not have equal reconciliation. My brother-in-law had an affair with a woman and ended up contracting HIV. My sister was NOT about to subject herself to any further sexual relations with him and he had the audacity of wanting sex after everything that happened. Needless to say, they are divorced, she’s with a better man, he’s out fighting a debilitating disease that he brought upon himself and I don’t see how any right minded person would have insisted she stay in that.
Divorce is never easy, but I don’t think it was the divorce specifically that caused the issues. Judging from the article, it sounds like your mother was a main source of trauma.
And it’s OK to let her hold her that bag.
even the Bible says that divorce after adultery is justified and that one should not stay with an adulterer as it is the biggest sin and shatters true love irretrievably yet today adultery is everywhere and even in court it is treated as normal. It is destroying so many lives and should never be forgiven.
Too many parents do not even try to make their relationships work but always put themselves first, push the children into instability and toing and froing between their parents and then continue their quest for dating,chasing after new lovers incessantly, spending a large chunk of their free time on going out,dating,appeasing new lovers.All children dream of living with their two biological parents together and in love yet many adults do not aim for real love and fidelity for a month. Such selfishness has ruined so many young lives and their mental health yet even the government do not seem to care.