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Speaking Out; Adult Children of Divorce on What it Felt Like to Have Divorced Parents

"....Not having them together as a couple means loneliness and heartbreak," Eric

In this part of the series, I wanted to understand how people felt about having divorced parents. Many of the people I spoke with grew up in the 70’s and it was less common to have divorced parents. Some felt like outcasts and they didn’t have anyone to speak to about what they were going through. The majority of people said how difficult it was to have divorced parents and that it continues to be difficult into their lives as adults. Many gave examples of events in their life that they had to split their time or attention- sports, dance recital, graduations.

Nicole said, “There is not a birthday, wedding or any event or holiday that is not filled with guilt about which parent to invite or distress by the emotional strain they create.”

And Rita shared, “It was always disjointing and somewhat discomforting when my mom and dad always had to sit apart at band concerts, and I had to meet them in different places at graduation.”

Similarly, Lisa said, “I noticed it most when there were decisions to be made about who would go to certain life events -- graduations, etc -- and whose house I would go to for holidays.”

Rhiannon felt there wasn’t consistency in the way her parents parented her, “The going back and forth wasn't nearly as bad as the fact that I knew they hated each other and was often put in the middle. There was no real consistency because they were always trying to impose their parenting styles, which would just break down the other's, and they seemed to sabotage each other out of spite. It was always very clear around holidays and in the summer when debates had to happen over where we would end up.”

Eric responded, “Not fun. Still notice it until today. Holidays and communications -- you have to report everything twice. Splitting time between loved ones is not fun. Not having them together as a couple means loneliness and heartbreak”

And Amy remembers, “It was hard. I lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone and everything. It was also incredibly rare for people to get divorced back then and still a bit of a stigma. It was hardest during school functions. I was in drama, choir, marching band, and a few other activities. My parents couldn't get along in public so mostly I never invited them both to the same function.”

There’s also anger and embarrassment that kids feel about having divorced parents. For some it’s being stuck in the middle of their ongoing arguments, for others its sadness that one parent doesn’t want to see them.

Michael shared, “Divorce was not a usual thing back then and I felt embarrassed and different then my peers. I noticed during play-time, school time, night time, all the time.”

Heather felt, “The hardest part was dealing with the animosity between them and feeling like being stuck in the middle all the time.”

TN said, “In hindsight I guess I felt a degree of abandonment that has barely diminished to this day.”

Susan remembers, “He never called. Never wanted to see me and not until I was 18 when I asked him to go for a drive with me did I ever ask him "why didn't you call me?"- He told me he never wanted Sandy (mom) to answer the phone.”

Stacey said, “It was awful. I felt like I was the only one. I was lonely and sad. Both parents would fight on the phone, He did not want to pay for child support. It was ugly from the first day and never got better.

Jessica shared, “It felt different and more complicated than my friends who didn't have divorced parents. I didn't want to have to explain to anyone if I needed to be picked up or dropped off at a house that wasn't my own. It was a small town and everyone knew where I lived. I didn't want to explain that my dad lived with another family in another neighborhood.”

Liz felt she had to lie, “My mom was sad a lot. I’ll always remember a mom who lived across the street was prying and asked me if my Dad's car was in the garage. I lied and said yes. I was embarrassed. We were forced to sell our house and move. My mom had to get a job. I started a brand new school in a new city. My life turned upside down.”

I think a lot about people who have difficult relationships with their ex-spouses and how it affects their kids. If they had the opportunity to read what these adults feel and felt, perhaps they would behave differently. There’s no “right” way to be divorced and I wish the grownups would spend more time understanding what it’s like from the kids perspectives.

Jody Comins, MSW is a Divorce & Family Mediator and Collaborative Coach in the Greater Boston area. She is an adult child of divorce and uses her experience to create a child-centered practice at A Better Way: Divorce Mediation. She is a mentor for volunteer mediators in the Norfolk Probate & Family Court and a court approved facilitator for the required parenting classes in MA. Her book based on this blog series is coming out April 2019.


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