Family Always Has Felt Dangerous and Unpredictable

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The story below is from an anonymous author that we’ll call Jennifer, written at 26 years old. She gave permission for this story to be told.

HER STORY

My first memory related to my parents' divorce took place in the summer after my fourth grade year. I was in the car with my mom and two of her cousins, who she had always been close with. We were driving through a part of town that was unfamiliar to me until we finally pulled up along the sidewalk outside of a small office building, and the car came to a halt. My mom turned to her cousins and said, "I have to do this," got out of the car, and walked into the building. I had no idea where we were, what was in the building, or what she "had to do." I later learned that the building was the leasing office for an apartment complex in a suburb about 20 minutes from my childhood home. I didn't know this until much later, but my mom had been seeking employment, and also a new place for us to live. 

A few months later after I had started fifth grade, my mom picked me up from school and said she had something she wanted to show me. We drove for a while and arrived at a small townhouse. My mom took me inside and showed me all the rooms. I remember lots of white walls and blankness. She showed me the room that was to be mine. It was much larger than my bedroom at home and this excited me. It even had its own bathroom! But I had a sinking feeling about it all. "Are we moving here with dad?" I asked my mom when we got back in the car. "No," she told me, "we would be moving here without dad." 

We celebrated our last Christmas as a family and my mom and I moved into the townhouse right after the new year. My dad continued living in our old home and I visited him on the weekends. Not long after the divorce, my dad began dating someone. His girlfriend lived an hour away and we soon found ourselves spending the weekends at her house rather than his. I hated the back and forth of custody, hated spending my weekends an hour from my home, my mom, and my friends, in what was essentially the house of a stranger. But I began to hate it all even more during my seventh grade year when my dad and his girlfriend bought a house an hour away from my hometown. 

I still visited every weekend - Thursdays meant packing my suitcase, Fridays meant dad would pick me up from school and take me against my will to the new house. Saturdays - the day that most people look forward to - were my least favorite day of the week for my entire adolescence, because they meant both waking up and going to sleep away from home. Sundays meant counting down the hours, all day long. I remember getting to my dad's house on Friday nights, going straight to my room, looking at the clock beside my bed, counting how many hours I had to kill before I would be home again. This went on roughly until college. 

My parents had what society would call a "good divorce." They were civil to each other, able to communicate about issues and logistics involving me, and I always knew they both loved me very much. They both attended my milestones and celebrations and I never had to worry about either of them making a scene if they were in the same room together. But even with all those things working in my favor, it was still difficult and unpleasant, and created lasting effects that I notice in myself to this day.

HOW THE DIVORCE MADE HER FEEL

During my teen years, in the height of it all, I remember thinking I was unaffected. I had heard about children who had not adjusted well to divorce and were in therapy or noticed significant changes in their school performance and personality. I wasn't in therapy, my grades didn't change, and I had lots of friends, so I assumed I had gotten through unscathed.

I did, however, struggle with a lot of anxiety, particularly when I was at my dad's house on the weekends. I was unhappy, always waiting to turn 18 so I wouldn't have to feel like cargo anymore. I remember many holidays spent in tears because I didn't want to leave my mom's family to go spend time with my step-family. I remember the feeling that it didn't matter what I wanted, or where I wanted to be, or how I was feeling - if it was time to get picked up or dropped off or transferred from one car to the other, I had to go.

I remember starting middle school and high school and feeling left out when my friends would talk about weekend plans, because I knew I had to travel an hour away and spend my weekends in a place where I knew no one. My friends would talk on Monday morning about the things they had done together over the weekend, and there were lots of times that the divorce had kept me from being able to share those experiences with them.

As I got further into high school, my parents were very understanding about this and worked with me to allow me to spend time with my friends on the weekends, even if that meant spending only half the weekend with my dad rather than the full weekend. I was very grateful for their willingness to be lenient when it came to this.

HOW HER PARENTS' DIVORCE HAS IMPACTED HER

As an adult, I feel much safer placing work above family. I now see that this tendency stems directly from the coping mechanisms I used to deal with the divorce during my teenage years. When I had to go to my dad's house on the weekends, I would hide in my homework. If my dad wanted me to come out of my room and spend time with my stepmom or stepsister, or if we had an event to go to with my step-family, I would always say I had homework to do. I would assign myself extra homework or read ahead in my textbooks to avoid engaging with my step-family when I was visiting my dad.

When I turned 17, I got my first job and I always tried to be scheduled on weekends and holidays. Having to work on a Friday night or Saturday meant not having to spend the entire weekend at my dad's. Having to work on Sunday meant getting to come home early. I quickly figured out that being scheduled to work was the only excuse in my life significant enough to get me out of going to my dad's house, so I became very invested in my retail job.

It wasn't until recently that I noticed the pattern. My fiancé is very family oriented and while I like the idea of family, I love the idea of independence. When I began getting intimidated by frequent family gatherings, I caught myself grasping for work events. It was then that I realized I use work to escape family, because family has always felt dangerous and unpredictable and work has always been the one area of my life that I could control, making it the safest.

Also, when I began dating, I noticed myself pursuing men who I perceived to be "safe" over men who I was more interested in or attracted to. My subconscious number one criteria for dating has always been to find someone who does not seem likely to ever end the relationship.

ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHOSE PARENTS HAVE DIVORCE OR SEPARATED

I think I would tell them to develop their relationship with God. That was one thing that helped get me through my parents' divorce, and I believe that a large part of the faith I have in my life today is because of that foundation of forming a friendship and trust in God at a time when I was young and vulnerable. I turned to a lot of things to distract myself from my situation during my adolescence (school, music, writing, etc.) but one of the things I turned to was God and my Catholic faith, and I believe that without that early experience of relying upon God when I needed Him most, I might not be the religious person I am today.

I would also tell them to stay close to their siblings, if they have siblings. I do not have siblings, so I navigated the pain and confusion of my parents' divorce completely alone. I wish that weren't the case. I wish I'd had even just one sibling to go through it with, because we could have helped each other. I'd imagine that if I had a brother or sister, we would be so close as adults because of having gotten through that difficult time together.

Finally, I would tell them to try to enjoy their childhood and adolescence even though that may not always be easy. I spent a lot of my time as a teenager complaining because I thought that if I showed my parents how miserable I was, they would fix the situation. What I learned is that when you make yourself miserable, you only hurt yourself and you waste your own time. If I could go back I would probably try to enjoy things a little more, even if they were things I didn't want to do, because if I had allowed myself to be fully present during that time, I might have surprised myself by having meaningful experiences that I would be thankful for today.

HOW TO HELP YOUNG PEOPLE FROM DIVORCED AND SEPARATED FAMILIES

I think there is a shortage of resources directed at young adults from divorced homes. Divorce support focuses on the adults going through the divorce. I think creating a community like Restored and allowing young adults to share their stories can be such a huge help to others going through the same thing. I would love to hear stories from other young adults who dealt with divorce growing up. I would love the opportunity to talk with them, share stories (even sad or painful stories), and be part of a community where adult children of divorce can support each other and help each other heal.


Are you interested in sharing your story with Restored?  If so, click the button above. Sharing your story can help you begin healing. 

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