High on the list of what not to say to someone getting divorced is, “At least your children are grown.” No matter their age, children are always challenged with the end of their parents’ marriage and age doesn’t make it any easier. It just means the challenges are different.
My present guest, Elizabeth was married for thirty-eight years. Her three children were all in their thirties when she and her husband divorced. And it was not easy. Here’s Elizabeth:
I get teary, because the children are devastated. They’re all in their thirties now and they’re devastated. It’s like this big rug was pulled out from under them. And then, does the whole past become a lie? What was it really like?
I listen to podcasts by the comedian, Marc Maron and he was talking about parents getting divorced. He said, “Yeah, I talk about it. I was really devastated when my parents got divorced and I was thirty-five.”
You don’t expect that coming out of an adult but it’s devastating. Even for an adult.
We don’t know how to refer to it.
This is what makes it hard.
When I was living in Connecticut I would go pretty much every Tuesday to go see my daughter and grand-daughter. It was hard getting on the train and to take the time. It really uses up most of the day, but I was happy to do it.
One day I was planning to go in and my daughter said, “Mom, we have a play date that Tuesday. Can we pick another time?” I said, “Sure” and put the visit off.
I had to go to the marital house. I had something in the basement that I wanted to get out. I still had the key. So, I go to the house and it happened to be the Tuesday that I wasn’t going to New York. When I went to go unlock the door, my younger daughter said, “Dad,” because she wasn’t expecting me to be out there, because I didn’t live there anymore.
She didn’t expect me to be opening the door. I said, “No, it’s me. I didn’t know you were here.”
She said, “Yeah, dad and I are going to New York today to see the baby.”
So, they were the playdate. I felt like I was stabbed in the heart.
I realized then that I had no business going back to that house anymore. Since then I got everything out of the basement and I actually threw the key away. So, I don’t have access to that.
My dear friend said, “Stay out of harm’s way,” and that’s harm’s way, to be going back to something that doesn’t belong to me anymore.
It was that kind of complication where I’m sure they were trying to protect me but it just felt so hurtful because I would have wanted to be there with all of them.
My younger daughter didn’t know the older one had said don’t come, because her dad was going to come. It’s messy, it’s really messy. And there’s feelings around all of that. A lot of emotions.
I think the children have actually become closer since the divorce. I think they’ve formed their own unit now, which is really good.
My prayer is that they all create that whatever has to happen next. But it certainly threw them all into therapy. They can’t talk to either one of us, it’s too political really. Do I talk about my feelings with mom about dad or vice versa? There’s a bias there.
My older daughter said, “Thank you for not trashing dad.” That makes me want to cry too because I do want to blame him but that wouldn’t do any good and I don’t want to sour her. The hardest thing is when the parents use the kids as a surrogate to emotionally work through this stuff. It’s not their job. It really isn’t fair to them to process that with your children. Process it with somebody else.
As Elizabeth says, adult children often wonder what was real about their childhood and what was fantasy. Another of my interviewees, Evvy was married for forty-two years and she talked about the struggle her children had in holding on to their memories of their childhood and not trying to rewrite them. And that is the important lesson from this segment.
It’s not that divorce suddenly makes all childhood experiences somehow fake or pretend. Rather it’s a realization that we each have our own perception of reality and each of those perceptions is valid and legitimate. Parents getting divorced shouldn’t change the fond memories children have of the annual summer vacation or the magic of Christmas morning or family game night.
Our job as parents is to help our children accept and embrace their memories and to recognize the gifts they received from their childhood.
Do your children support each other over your divorce?
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