Adult children of divorce speak about their experiences
From a blog by Leila Miller
Leila Miller asked adult children of divorce about their experiences and received in a virtual avalanche of pain. Not only does the pain of divorce continue into adulthood, but the suffering is not lessened even if the child experienced a 'good divorce'. Some of those responses she collected into a book, "Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak"
Here are some excerpts written by contributors who were not from abusive homes, nor did they get dragged through an 'ugly divorce.' They lived under custody arrangements that kept them in contact with both their mother and father throughout childhood.
As children, many contributors were shocked and confused by the disintegration of their families, and they experienced the continuing fallout through the years. A 50-year-old wife and mother whose parents shared custody and got along well after their divorce told her, "I was devastated as a child when my dad drove away, and I will never forget standing in our front yard literally screaming, ‘Come back!’ I didn't understand what was happening, and my three-year-old sister certainly didn't understand…I would honestly say I ‘survived’ the divorce, but the fall-out wasn't pretty: Lots of acting out and ‘unsettled’ behavior. It really skewed the way I looked at guys and what I thought ‘love’ was. If marriage wasn't forever, why should anything else be?"
Here are some insights:
Unfortunately, the help and understanding that should come to children in the wake of a divorce rarely comes. In response after response, the adult children of divorce interviewed said that their own feelings and experiences were either never solicited or systematically sublimated to the adults’ desires and feelings. Because of this, they overwhelmingly ended up sticking to 'the narrative' given them by the parents i.e. "This will be better for everyone" and spent the ensuing decades managing and being ever mindful of their parents’ feelings They don't want to make our parents feel bad because they see they are already hurting, so they hide their own devastation.
Additionally, abandonment issues plague adult children of divorce for many years afterward. As children, they cannot make sense of why Daddy or Mummy has permanently left the home; as adults. The fear of abandonment—the lesson that “love stops” or that conflict leads to permanent separation—continues. Divorce instils a fear of abandonment with regard to their relationships, believing that when the going got rough, people would leave. There is little opportunity to learn skills for solving conflict in relationships. The closer someone comes, the more the anxiety increases getting hurt, or worse—abandoned.
Loss of First Family
Another common theme among contributors was the grief of losing their “first family,” long past the time that the parents themselves have moved on to new lives and romances. The children are expected to move along as the parents have and expected to feel the same type of “closure” that the parents feel as they commence second or third families (or more). There is a pretense that the first family never existed - erasing half of the child's family.
A Different View of the World
Adult children of divorce do not see the world the same way that the children of intact families do. Those who have grown up with divorced parents struggle with the sense of having “no real home” anymore, even well into adulthood, and they must forever navigate two separate worlds by being “two different people” depending on which parent/family they are with.
Parental divorce is never “over” for the child. Even though the pain from the divorce remains largely hidden or purposely disguised, the devastation continues, often in new and unexpected ways as the children get married and form families of their own. A parent might be able to totally start over with a new spouse, experiencing freedom from the first marriage and only minimal contact with the first spouse. For the child, however, their worlds will forever be fundamentally split. Forever. There is no starting over with a clean slate; things are now complicated and fractured. Divorce starts a family onto two different paths that, as the years unfold, grow further and further apart. It's not a one-time event, but rather an ever-changing and ever-widening gap that only the children are really tasked with straddling and reconciling, season after season, change after change.
You can order the book here or from your local bookseller.
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