November 23, 2015

Is there such a thing as a good divorce?

Dear Mommy and Daddy
I couldn’t say this when you were alive, because I didn’t want to hurt or humiliate either of you. But now that you’ve both been gone a few years, I’ve been reflecting on my silence, hoping that hearing about the painful example set by our family could help some other family do better.
I don’t think either of you intentionally did us harm. But maybe parents reading this will understand how a bad divorce can affect their kids – and thus find it in their hearts to do better – out of love for their children.

When I was 12 and my brother was nine, our parents announced their separation to us. Actually my mom announced it because she had already kicked my dad out of the house.
Having him leave without saying goodbye made us feel he didn’t care about us. Kids are funny that way – they leap to conclusions. And worry in silence. What 12-year-old is going to say to her dad: “Daddy, do you still love me?” But I couldn’t tell he did. If he loved me, why did he do all those terrible things to my mom?
Those are the things no child is supposed to know. But once she kicked my dad out, my mom’s anger at him overflowed. She spewed her hatred of him to us and favoured us with frequent recitations of his marital misdeeds.
It didn’t matter to my brother and me whether she was right or wrong about his behaviour. What mattered was how it felt hearing those stories from our mother. It was like losing our mother to hear her so unhinged. How can you trust your parents to look after you when one is off the deep end and the other sounds completely unreliable? If you two can’t keep us from harm, maybe nobody can. At ages nine and 12, we immigrated to the land of fear. Home was no longer a safe place.
For the next five years, my brother and I were always wondering which of the two of them was going to embarrass us next – my father with his next hot girlfriend or my mother with her rages at him. We were never free of the worry about which side of the parental war zone we were on. Did we do something that favoured one over the other? They both said we weren’t supposed to take sides but their behaviour said otherwise. It was a constant balancing act on a tightrope of conflicting loyalties. Spending too much time with one destroyed the other one. Even liking one too much felt like an act of treason to the other parent.
We spent our adolescence feeling chronically nervous. It was hard to feel safe and secure in the war zone. Family events? Birthdays, Bar Mitzvah, vacations? What was joyous and fun for other kids was, for us, just another opportunity for tension.
When kids worry, they don’t have the secure launchpad they need as part of growing up. If I could turn back time and be that sad teenager talking to my parents, I’d find the courage to hold them accountable to a higher standard of behaviour in their divorce. I’d haul them into family counselling and say: “Make peace, for us.”

for the sake of the children......

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