Thinking about that time in my life still causes me to feel anxious and afraid.
I exchanged several emails recently with a young man whose parents divorced when he was seven. Their divorce had such an impact on him that he is still working through issues that come up in his daily life.
He agreed to allow me to share one of his emails with you for two reasons. First, he hopes that parents can be made aware via his words that children deserve to be put first in good times and bad.
And secondly, he hopes parents who are going through a high conflict divorce that is causing their children pain can see that children grow and learn and come out the other side and in most cases better people.
Do me a favor, when reading the email below, view it from the perspective of a child. Divorce is between adults but it is not only a grown-up problem. Or, maybe it is a grown-up problem that has profound and lasting consequences on our children. If you have children that is something that should be taken into consideration when navigating the divorce process and co-parenting afterward.
How not to divorce, for the sake of your children
There are many things that children growing up go through. They go to school, make friends, and have fun. I did all of those things as a child. At seven years old, a child is not properly equipped to deal with the stress and pain that comes along with the divorce of his parents. Additionally, a child of that age expects good behavior from his parents.
That is why it is so shocking the first time that a child experiences something that proves to him that his parents are capable of hurtful actions. I should not have been forced to cope with any type of life-altering stress, and it was at the age of seven that I realized that life can change in an instant and we have no choice but to deal with whatever hardship life throws at us. I was too young to learn that kind of message.
It was March 2002, and something was not right about that day. My Dad had not come home from work. Me being young, I did not think too much about it when my mom told me he was flying that night. He was a helicopter pilot; it wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to fly at night. I went on with my night and eventually fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning, like any other morning, and went to school. I was in the second grade; my teacher’s name was Mrs. Cassady. I was in class doing math work when my teacher got a call for me to come to the office to be checked out. I was confused, but I was also excited about being checked out so I headed to the office. When I got there, I saw my Dad standing in his flight suit and I ran up and gave him a big hug. It seemed like nothing out of the ordinary, but I really had no idea.
We walked out to the car, where I noticed my older brother, who was in the front seat. I asked my dad, “What are we doing?” He said, “I will tell you when we get in the car.” We got in the car and my brother asked, “So what do you have to tell us?” and that was when my Dad said it: “Your mother and I have decided we are going to get a divorce.” Immediately my brother and I broke down into tears, sobbing, asking, “Why? Why?” and all my father had to say was “I do not want to talk about it.” Then he drove us back to our house while we were still crying, and told us to get out of the car, and then he drove off. That day was easily the worst day of my life so far.
After my father left I went through a terrible depression. I was crying every night, I was not hungry, and I was not motivated to do anything. My mother started taking me to a therapist, and I just did not want to talk about it. It was too hard for me to even fathom why someone that I trusted could just throw me away like my Dad did. I went from seeing him every day to every other weekend, and at that age, I just did not understand why that was. My Mom told me I could see him anytime I wanted but if I called he always had an excuse. Once I called and he said he couldn’t talk because he had just poured a bowl of cereal and it was getting soggy. His bowl of cereal was more important than talking to me.
It did not make any sense and he didn’t help me to understand by refusing to talk to me or spend more time with me. Thinking about that time in my life still causes me to feel anxious and afraid.
I have come to realize that the pain I felt was not due to my parents’ divorce, but the way my Dad chose to behave during and after my parents’ divorce. It was his behavior that caused me so much pain at that time in my life and since. I still resent my Dad for some of the things he did then and for some of the things he has done since. He, at this point in my life is just someone I used to know because, he never became the Dad I used to know again.
I thank him, though, for teaching me that the way we act toward other people not only impacts them but also shows how much character we have. Anyone with character never disregards the feelings of others just so they can get what they want. I strive to be a good person who has good relationships. That means me being able to take into consideration not only what I want but also what those around me want. I guess you could say that my Dad’s extreme self-interest taught me the importance of selflessness and not making my needs my main focus.
Although Jason’s story is not the norm, most parents do manage to retain a healthy relationship with their children after divorce. Jason’s story is one of brokenness and mending and one that should put all parents on notice. If you’re going to divorce, do it in a way that doesn’t cause damage to your children.