My parents separated when I was seven years old, and went on to divorce one year later. Like many children whose parents go through a divorce in their early childhood, there was a custody battle, one that raged on for years. There were periods of time when my siblings and I were split apart — two of us living with my dad, while two of us lived with my mom. My mom left the state, beginning a new life, while trying to incorporate her old one, and my dad worked all consuming hours at work.
So many of my childhood memories are tinged with the pain of that loss. I knew that one day when I got married, that I would do everything in my power to prevent having to put my own family through divorce.
This is by no means an essay to shame those who have gone through divorce, or who have made the incredibly difficult decision to end their marriage. I know that if you have gone through/are going through this process, you know the weight of your decision — and any family that is going through divorce needs love and support poured over them, not judgment and shame.
Rather, this is merely an account of how my parents divorce has affected me. This is an essay that gives light to resilience, our ability to rise up from brokenness and take part in beauty.
I know the impact divorce can have on a child, and that made me fight harder for my own marriage.
My husband and I got pregnant with our first child a little less than one year into our marriage. By year three of our marriage, we hit a really rocky spot — one I was not sure we could recover from. We had to have some truly scary and vulnerable conversations during that time — ones that covered what our lives would look like co-parenting our daughter through an ended marriage.
These discussions were terrifying and painful because they touched on that place in my heart where my own childhood hurts resided. But because I intimately knew the pain of a broken home, I had so much more determination, bravery, and willpower to get through that trying time in my marriage. I could not bare the thought of creating a life for my daughter where she could not have both her dad and me full-time. I had to try every last thing to make my marriage healthy again.
I had to show up in my marriage and fight for everything that was good and work diligently to work through everything that wasn’t.
It showed me the importance of learning how to communicate in a healthy way.
I remember someone telling my husband that our chances of making it as a married couple were slim because my parents had divorced. I remember feeling so enraged and hurt by that statement. How could my parents’ decisions and actions predict the outcome of my marriage? As a child I told myself I would never put my kids through divorce, and in the beginning of my adult life, I strove to do everything different. Brene Brown says, “You can’t give your children what you don’t have yourself.”
In my case, my knowledge of communication indicated that anger and yelling were normal forms of communicating. I did not learn the skill of having a civil conversation, where I and another person could both say our peace in a normal tone and volume and maybe even end the conversation in forgiveness, until I reached adulthood.
I was seriously lacking in the healthy communication department when I got married. When married life got rocky and my husband and I came to a standstill, we went to counseling and learned how to communicate with one another. We didn’t have the skills, so we figured out how to get them. And now, as a parent, I know the importance of healthy communication, and my husband and I work to model that for our kids.
It has shown me that it’s okay to ask for help.
When my husband and I hit that first rocky spot in our marriage, we reached out for support. Our parents watched our kids while we went to counseling every week and then went on a date afterwards.
Guys, go to counseling. It is a serious gift to have an impartial person help you take your marital conversations past the point where you and your spouse get stuck. Sometimes it’s necessary to shut yourself in a space with a trained professional so that you literally cannot leave the room when things get tough.
We went on a date every week after our counseling session. Sometimes we’d go to dinner and I’d be completely drained from counseling — sometimes from crying, and sometimes I’d sit across the table from him, not saying a word because I was angry. But we showed up anyway. And I held hope that opening up space where the two of us could just be together would eventually lead us to conversation — and it did. Now, years later, we still go on our weekly date night (and attend counseling too), and they’re both much more enjoyable now.
So much that comes out of divorce can be painful, but here’s what I know: Pain can make us resilient and shape our lives into ones that work hard to do good. If you are a child of divorce, chances are you’ve made a promise to yourself like that one I made to myself: you’re going to do things differently when it comes to your own family. I just want you to know that you can—you can do things differently.
You are strong, and your heartache is just empathy waiting to be put into action. But sometimes, we can’t make things work with our good intentions alone. Sometimes we need to ask for help and allow ourselves to learn and grow. If you want to do things differently, I’m here to tell you that you can.