Today, a guest writer shares her thoughts on broken homes, seeing parental conflict, and a new understanding of what divorce means.
My Parents Did What?!
I remember being in 5th or 6th grade, and learning about what sex really was. I clearly remember thinking to myself,
My parents did THAT?—my parents can’t even be in a room together, let alone do that. What the heck is going on?
I was totally confused about how in the world my parents had made me, how that was even possible. In this way, I feel lucky. I know that might sound strange, but I do. I feel lucky because I didn’t have to experience that confusion of learning my parents stopped getting along, stopped loving each other, stopped wanting to be married.
In a sense, it was much better for me that they divorced when I was one year old, rather than when I was older. I think that would be difficult. But, I also think it was more difficult, in some ways, because I didn’t ever get that sense of familial bond. If my parents had split when I was older, maybe I would have had a better sense of our connectedness, a sense of “us”, rather than, “me and mom,” “me and dad,” and “me.”
No matter what, divorce is difficult for kids to go through. Looking back, I can see that sometimes there are no good choices, only bad or worse ones. Sometimes, we don’t have simple options. Sometimes the choice is between terrible or less terrible, and I can understand that now.
I Don’t Believe in “Broken Home”
As an adult, I really dislike the term “broken home”. I think it skews our thoughts on divorce toward the negative. I can honestly say that my parents staying together would have done more bad than good. I don’t believe that parents should always stay together for the sake of their kids, because I believe that witnessing parental conflict, divorced or not, was the truly difficult part for me.
I imagine what it might have been like had my parents stayed together. I imagine witnessing their arguments in real-time, as a little kid, seeing them constantly unhappy together, waiting for their next blow-up, hoping they wouldn’t fight. I imagine what being in an “unbroken home” might have been like, and it seems significantly worse to me.
I honestly don’t blame my parents for splitting up. I think some kids will see their parents divorcing and think that they did something wrong, that they were the problem, or be angry that their parents can’t “make it work”. But, I think there are just as many children of “unbroken homes” who wished their parents had split, who wish their parents hadn’t just kept up appearances but fought behind closed doors.
I don’t believe in “broken homes,” because I don’t believe that homes are broken purely based on marital status. I believe homes are broken by conflict. I believe homes are broken by violence. I believe homes are broken by lack of love and connection. I believe that homes are breakable, even when they are “unbroken,” and that children will end up dealing with the pieces no matter what.
What I Do Believe In
I don’t blame my parents for divorcing. But I do blame them for making me a part of the fight. I blame them for pulling me into their fights, asking my opinions of their arguments, asking me (explicitly or in-explicitly) to pick sides. I blame them for telling me to keep secrets from the other, the old, “just between you and me.” I blame them for those choices.
My Many Beliefs
Which is why I still believe in marriage and divorce, but I also believe in conflict-resolution, and self-care. I believe in setting boundaries with people, and making mistakes. I’ve made lots of mistakes growing up, especially in my teenage years, which I can attribute to my parents, or being a “child of divorce,” but I imagine there are just as many kids who could blame their parent’s terribly unhappy marriage, their constant witnessing of conflict within one “unbroken home.”
I honestly don’t believe you are better or worse off purely based on whether your parents are divorced, married, separated, or unmarried. I believe you are better or worse off with how your parents decide to be married, divorced, separated, or unmarried but still together. I’d take 2 happily divorced parents who have open lines of communication and have developed strong conflict-management skills, who do not ask me to take sides over 2 unhappily married parents, any day.
Optimistic, but Realistic
I also know how incredibly lofty of a goal this could be for people. Having had my own fair share of messy relationships, I now understand better than ever how people remain in abusive relationships, how they stay together because separating seems too scary, or hard. I understand, now, why my parent’s fights got so crazy, why they said and did what they said, and it means I forgive them. I do not believe in broken homes because I believe home is something we create, for our children and ourselves.
Building Homes Together
I believe family is the people we are related to, but also the people we share our stories with, the people who are there for us as we are for them. I believe in building homes, and building families, no matter who or where they come from. Most deeply, I believe that I am in control of those choices. I am in control of how I respond to conflict, life choices, relationships, and people. There may not be great options, but they are options I get to decide on. And that decision is my power in all of this.
One Choice You Can Make Today, Right Now
As an adult child of divorce, I want to remind you that you have choices, too. They are not easy choices, but they are available. And, I want you to think about the answers to the questions below specifically, because, to me, this is the real choice we can make.
What kind of home do I want to create? Who is my family, what is my home, and what do I want to make it for all of us?
If the opposite of “broken” is “whole,” then I believe in creating “whole homes,” in whatever sense of wholeness we define for ourselves. And I hope, in some small or big way, that there is an answer in those questions above that will guide you towards what a “whole home,” looks, feels, and sounds like for you and your family.