By Aimee Lynch
As college-age women find their seats, I consider their faces. Outwardly, we look different. We come from different years in school, and have different majors and varying personalities. All strangers until we began sharing stories about our common bond: we are all daughters of divorce.
As a child of divorce myself, and as part of the Residence Life staff at my college, I organized this gathering to give women a safe place to discuss their pain from parental divorce. My friend and I opened the discussion with specific questions, but the conversation quickly took unexpected turns as women eagerly shared their experiences. Our little group, engrossed, spent the next two-and-a-half hours sharing stories and finding solidarity. Because we assured each other of confidentiality, I share the following with care and some generalizations. All names have been changed.
Several themes drifted to the surface as the women spoke. An alarmingly large portion of our group made the hurtful discovery that one of her parents had been involved in an extramarital affair. I watched the weary anger on Aubrey’s face as she confessed that her father divorced her mother in order to marry another woman. Another young brunette, Cara, shed tears as she described how her mother’s repeated unfaithfulness ruined her parents’ marriage. We expressed our fear of entering into romantic relationships. Although we desire to love and be loved, the chance of finding a man who will remain stable and completely sincere seems unlikely. On the fringes of every romantic relationship, fear lingers that perhaps this man is not all he appears to be. Indeed, we once considered our own fathers steadfast, yet that proved untrue. Divorce stole the effortless innocence out of our trust. Trust has become an elusive goal that we consciously fight for in our relationships. Although our parents failed to set the example for us, we recognize the tremendous importance of trust in a marriage, and long for it.
We also talked about growing up in single-parent homes, the long-range effects of which society grossly underestimates. The parent-child relationship is entirely altered when the family unit is thrown off balance. One thoughtful woman with short brown hair, nervously moved her hands in her lap as she related how her mother’s mental health issues grew after the divorce, and were directed toward her. Without her father there to help keep the balance, her mother turned on Charlotte and used verbal abuse as an avenue to transfer emotional burdens onto her daughter. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon story. Even in situations that do not involve mental health issues or abuse, single mothers tend to look to their children as emotional supports in the aftermath of a divorce. This causes children to mature at an early age as they bear the responsibility of becoming a pseudo-counselor to an emotionally needy parent. Many of us felt that the innocence of our childhoods had been cut short in this way. While we applaud the single-parents who do all they can to raise their children well, that missing parent is irreplaceable.
We lingered on other topics, hostile stepparents, difficult custody arrangements, painful holidays, and mediating parental conflict after the divorce. Many of these frustrating issues have followed us into adulthood, along with new questions about dividing time between two different households as grown children, only to add in-laws to the mix if we marry. These difficulties are ignored or suppressed by popular media because the truth is inconvenient. But children of divorce know the reality: the dissolution of the family unit leaves deep scars on our hearts.
Yet in the midst of acknowledging these broken parts of our lives, we bonded over the ways that we were shaped and strengthened by having to deal with difficult circumstances from an early age. We became more independent, learned how to adapt to disparate environments, and were awakened to the beauty of the traditional nuclear family. This resilience cannot replace our longing for what should have been. We are all-too-aware of the statistics that children of divorce often continue the trend of divorce in their own marriages. But we burn with hope that we can reverse these patterns. Our personal wrestling with the ugliness of divorce kindles in us an intense determination to spare our own children. We want to marry men who desire healthy marriages, and to be the fathers our children need. We resolve to remain committed to our covenant promises, supporting one another when we waver. We will work through conflict because we have tasted the consequences of failure. And by grace, our daily self-death will flourish into life-giving marriages and homes.
Gatherings like these are so important for healing. Contemporary society advocates the lie that divorce is normal, often trying to hide the damage that is done by rampant and selfish divorce. It silences the cries of those who experiences its harmful repercussions, too. So we need to stand tall and affirm this pain in one another while offering soothing words of hope. There is great healing in conversation and in tears, and great power in the words “me too.” To other children of divorce we say bravely face the ache of your heart, and join us.