When my parents got divorced it was still considered a pretty shameful thing. And we were Catholic, so we had that going for us. People whispered about it. I got teased about it in school. I heard a lot about the ‘sin’ of divorce in CCD. I remember feeling really alone in it, as though it made us different. I was embarrassed.
The divorce rate was lower than it is today, to be sure, but we also just talked about it less openly.
We talk about it much more candidly now, but I’m not sure we talk about it BETTER. We seem to live at the poles when it comes to the way we approach it. Either we brush it off and act as though the dissolution of a marriage is no big deal- the “heck, everybody’s doing it!” approach or we catastrophize it.
Neither way is great.
Maybe if you are married for a short time and there are no children to consider, your divorce truly is a blip. Things don’t work out, you both see it the same way, you part amicably. He gets the crock pot, you get the coffee maker. No harm, no foul.
When there are children involved, though, it’s another thing entirely.
Your kids will have their own experience of your divorce, apart from the ‘facts,’ apart from your feelings. My ex-husband and I never (and I truly mean never) fought in front of our kids. We’d both grown up in houses that were very angry, pre-divorce- we did not want that for our kids. We actually didn’t fight much in general, but that’s another post. In any case, when we separated there was no context for our kids. There wasn’t the, “Well, mom and dad have been miserable for a long time…” sense that I had and my ex-husband had when our respective parents divorced. Our kids’ world simply upended, seemingly for no reason.
That is traumatic.
I felt as though our family life was shattered by our divorce, but it wasn’t. The fissures were already there. We only looked okay. We had no stable foundation. It wasn’t the final big revelation that left us in pieces- we were already in pieces. We were a fundamentally broken, intact family.
I remember lamenting to my best friend that I wanted my kids to have what I didn’t- a ‘whole’ family. What I now realize is, they never did. Not really.
That notion, though, it’s insidious. You hear it everywhere, and it needs to STOP.
Can we, for the love, please stop referring to families post-divorce as “broken” families?
If we cling to the notion that the ideal family can only ever be two parents, married, living under the same roof- that excludes a hell of a lot of people. Not all marriages look alike, and neither do all divorces.
The words we use MATTER. If your child is told their family is broken because her or his mom and dad no longer live together- they will take that in. That will be the truth they live out of. Our children look to us for guidance in how to move forward. How to live. What to prioritize.
Maybe they do the math that the unhappy/angry/abusive married family was the ‘good’ thing and the necessary/healthy divorce is the ‘bad.’
This is not to minimize how difficult and devastating divorce can be, particularly for children. It is a major life change, over which children have no power. That is the very definition of trauma. But life after divorce, your family after divorce, can be healthy. It can be happy. It can be WHOLE.
We are a healthier family today than we were pre-divorce.
A family where the parents are no longer married is not necessarily broken.
Sometimes the divorce is the REPAIR.