My parents divorced when I was 9. My father left for another woman. He died 10 years later after divorcing his 4th wife. My mother is currently on her 3rd marriage.
I have a slew of stepparents, stepsiblings, half-siblings, step-cousins and step-uncles that were once family, but now… I don’t know what they are. It was all too common for me to be chatting with my stepbrother at school about our parents one day and the next, there would have been a fight, and he’d have moved out with his mother, and we’d never see each other again.
I keep track of some of these once-were-family members Facebook friends. But many of them, well… I don’t even know where they are, which seems strange considering we might have shared a room, or a Christmas, or I might have stood in the family line at their wedding.
I’ll just say it: My parents had an ugly divorce. It thrust me from one home to another, and forced me to take sides when I wanted unity. When I was 14, I got so tired of all the fighting, I ran away. I stayed with my father for a bit. I stayed with some friends. Eventually I landed at my grandmother’s where I stayed until I finished high school.
When I think back on my childhood, it all feels very transient, people coming in and out of my life depending on who was married to whom. I had no control over any if it.
In so many ways, my childhood created a deep assumption that one day my wife and my children would leave, just like everyone else had.
My wife, Mel, and I are in our 14th year of marriage. We have three children. We have a mortgage. We have lived in three different states. We have fought, and made up a million times. She supported me thought college and then, when I was done, I supported her as she finished her degree. I can’t even imagine my life without her, and yet it took 10 years of marriage for me stop assuming that I’d eventually be abandoned again, and start assuming that she was the rock of my life. It took me years to stop looking at my children, and not feel this subconscious fear that I probably shouldn’t get too close because it was just a matter of time before they were taken from me.
When I look on those early years of our marriage, I’m not sure what made me hold my ground when things got rough. It must have been love, commitment, or God’s will, because my default was “to hell with it, she’s just going to leave anyway,” because that was all I’d ever known.
But now that I’m here, I’m so grateful that I worked through the hard times, because the fact is, I have something really special. I have children who greet me with smiles when I come home. I have a wife who I trust with everything and know will be with me through thick and thin, because we’ve been through think and thin and we held strong.
And I’m so glad we did.
Yes, I know there are some marriages that are toxic and damaged, and they need to end. And I know that there are some people who get divorced, but still manage to maintain a civil and functional parenting dynamic. In those cases, I get it.
But if you are a child of divorce, and you assume that it’s just a matter of time before your marriage implodes or the ones you love will leave, despite any indicators to the contrary, I want you to realize what you have. Focus on it and hold strong. Because otherwise you might let go of something you always longed for: a stable loving family.
And that would be the real tragedy.