I am an adult child of divorce, my parents having terminated their marriage after roughly 30 years. Best I recall, I was in graduate school at the time it was all going on.
My mother was miserable, vindictive as she went after my father, spilling out her unhappiness to anyone who would listen. But when it was over, all I felt was relief.
I was certain that my mother would now, finally, begin to make herself happy. If not happy exactly, at least less unhappy.
Her discontent in marriage was apparent for decades, and her emotions spilled over into everything – in particular her dealings with me, and from the time I was a young child.
Perhaps she took her frustration out on me simply because I was there. I imagine she took far more anger out on herself, which was obvious in self-destructive behaviors and patterns that were long ingrained, and an unwillingness to look at her own role in what went wrong in her marriage.
I know these to be easy remarks to make from the perspective of a mature adult who has been through marriage and divorce as well. I wouldn’t have seen so much without my own experience.
As for my father, when it was all over, I was happy for him. I knew that he loved someone else, he went out of his way to create a relationship with me, and I was aware of how difficult it was to live with my mother.
My recollections of my parents’ marriage are a mixed bag. There were few fights but little time spent together. There are indelible images of my mother in her anger, her frustration, her bitterness – both while married and after.
The Child’s View of a Dysfunctional Marriage
I can’t say what anyone’s view of their parents might be – except mine.
Even as a child, I was aware that my mother was unhappy and I used to ask why she didn’t divorce if she was so miserable with my father. I asked as a child – naively – without any comprehension of the logistics involved, the complexity of the feelings she would invariably go through, or the stigma that existed at the time.
All I could see was that they spent little time together, that she seemed bitter and lonely, that she was often angry with me. Unhappiness poured out of her, as did invective on occasion. Both were hard to see as a child.
Don’t we all want our parents to be happy?
There was friction, there was her erratic behavior. I know that her obesity was an issue and her unhappiness was both cause and effect. My father was also gone a good deal, which wasn’t unusual in the 1960s and 1970s: mothers raised the children, fathers went to work.
Still, the thought of divorce seemed like a better plan to me, certainly for my mother, than continuing in the way she was.
The Adult’s View of an Unhappy Mother
When my parents finally divorced, I thought my mother’s unhappiness would end.
It did not.
She was in her 50s, still vital, still beautiful, and yes, still obese. She dealt with the weight issue at various points in time and was certainly young enough to address it again, not to mention pursuing her many interests.
Still, I recognize that as women grow older, demographics are less than kind when it comes to dating under any circumstances.
But my mother did little to rebuild her life, or so it seemed to me and even in that, I’m in no position to judge. At the time, I hadn’t yet married much less had children. Nor had I experienced the incredible range of emotions and logistical complexities that occur with divorce and for years afterward.
I can’t imagine the inner turmoil and conflict when you find yourself divorced from a spouse who has been part of your life for some 35 years. And only a measure of her bitterness lifted. Divorced or not, she’d played the expected role of wife and mother for more than three decades. Divorced or not, she still loved my father.
I see this now. I understand the many fears she must have experienced. I understand her desire to “stay” for the children. I realize the stigma that must have existed for divorcées in the 60s and 70s – so much worse than it is now. I understand that she may have had financial as well as emotional reasons for remaining married for so long.
And I even understand how love and contempt can coexist toward the same person.