Close your eyes and think back to your childhood. You might remember your mother fussing over you after you scraped your knee in a nasty tumble. You might recall your father urging you to the finish line at your school sports day.
You might even have vivid memories of your birthday party when you turned the (then) grand age of twelve, your mom and dad singing along with your friends. Now, take away one of your parents from those memories, and see what you have left.
Divorce as a fact of modern life
For most of us, parents are an intrinsic part of life. They are entwined with our earliest memories, good or bad, no matter what. It is easy to take something as fundamental to life as our parents for granted. Like the air we breathe; haven’t they always been there?
Yet not all of us have had both parents around all the time. Some divorces mean that one parent has to stay away, although he or she can come to visit.
But for many, their childhood memories only have one parent in them. Their albums may have yellowed photographs of the other, and somewhere in the back of their minds, they have hazy recollections of the missing mother or father’s smiling face. But that’s all they have.
As a child, separation must be a difficult concept to grasp — why can’t my parents just love each other? And what about me! But, as an adult with your own fair share of failed relationships, things take a different perspective.
Three women whose parents divorced under various circumstances agreed to share their experiences of their childhood, and what their opinions are of their parents today.
Now that they’re all grown up, perhaps what they have to say may strike a chord with you, especially if you’re thinking about separation from your partner. All the identities of the women have been concealed.
Case #1: Choosing the distance
For Catherine, now 35, the announcement of her parents’ divorce when she was little was more a relief than a shock. From as far back as she can remember, they had bitter arguments that frequently ended up with blows being exchanged.
“My mother used to throw plates at my dad,” she says. “There was a lot of broken crockery in the kitchen in those days!”
But a cloud passes over her face as she recalls her mother’s bruised face, slumped against the bathroom wall, crying. Catherine was eight when her mother sat her down and told her she would be leaving her father. Catherine cried, but in her heart, she was glad; glad that there would not be any more fights.
“My mother told me she would come to visit me every week,” Catherine says. But she doesn’t remember ever seeing her again.
Catherine’s mother gave up custody to her husband, and was free to visit her anytime she wanted. But she didn’t. Catherine’s father remarried and moved away. She grew up with her grandmother, meeting him about twice a year. “Maybe my mother was too afraid of getting beaten up again,” Catherine muses.
“At first, I remember being sad. And then, angry. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her at least once. I hated her for a long time afterwards. My mother failed as a parent; my father, too, for ‘chasing’ her away. But lately, I’ve come to forgive them both. It’s too burdensome carrying that hatred around.”
Catherine now has two children of her own — a boy (eight) and a girl (six). She is divorced, but maintains a cordial relationship with the father of her children. He comes and visits whenever he can. “I don’t want them growing up thinking he is a bad man,” she says. “My ex-husband and I may have failed each other, but that does not mean we have to fail our children.”
Case #2: Remaining close
Susan, 30, has fonder memories of growing up, even though her parents divorced when she was 12. She cannot rightly say what the reasons for their separation were (“Probably something like ‘irreconcilable differences’,” says Susan), but in the big picture, it did not really matter. “They used to argue a lot… but that’s the hallmark of all divorces, isn’t it?” says Susan.
Although Susan does say she would have liked it if they had stayed together, she knows now that it was better that they didn’t. No child likes growing up with fighting parents. Hers were separated, but her father came to visit her almost every day. She stayed with her mother for the rest of her growing years, but never moved too far away from where her father lived.
“He would come round on his bicycle just to see me,” Susan giggles. “He’d ask me how my day at school was and sometimes take me to the shop to have an ice cream.”
Yet Susan’s own relationships have never ended up in marriage, something which she suspects may have more to do with her own insecurities than with the men she has met. Subconsciously, she believes she may never make that commitment.
“I lived alone with my mom for many years. I know a woman can make it alone, without a man. Perhaps that is why I’m not desperate, even though I know my biological clock is ticking,” re?flects Susan.
Her parents remain on good terms, and still see each other on birthdays and other family occasions. “I don’t feel that I was abandoned,” says Susan. “I love both my parents very much, and I think that what they did was best for everyone.”
Also read: How to explain divorce to children
Case #3: Lost and found
Sylvia’s story may sound painful to some, but none more so than to herself. Her parents married as the rebels of their families. Her father was a door-to-door salesman, and being the possessive type (his wife was a sort of beauty queen), insisted that her mother stay at home instead of working.
After two years of a chaotic and often violent marriage, she left home, leaving Sylvia behind.
Not without a fight though. Sylvia’s mom tried to get Sylvia to stay with her, but her ex-husband scared her witless. His brothers threatened her with violence, forcing her to give up the chase. Alone, divorced (this was the early 1970s, mind you) and with a family that barely supported her cause, she fled and has remained as far away from him as possible.
“I don’t know whether I blame my father or my mother for what happened,” says Sylvia, now 33. “He said she was a flirt; she said he was violent.”
Her father remarried several years later, and her growing years were not pretty. He was a womaniser and an alcoholic, both traits Sylvia came to understand very early in life. His second wife — barely eight years older than Sylvia herself — was as abusive as she was sneaky.
“I think I hated my real mother for abandoning me most during those years, when my stepmother made my life a living hell,” whispers Sylvia.
Twenty years after leaving her, Sylvia’s mother sent her a present in secret on her wedding day. Three years later, Sylvia was divorced. She had no children. Then, out of the blue, Sylvia’s mother called her office to speak to her. Sylvia breaks into tears as she recalls the day she first heard her mother’s voice.
“I didn’t know what to think or feel,” recalls Sylvia. “I felt angry, happy and sad all at the same time. I felt like a baby, and wanted so much to tell her of the nights I spent crying, alone, by the window, when my dad was out getting drunk,” Sylvia says.
But she didn’t say any of those things to her estranged mother. She figured that her mother’s phone call took a lot of courage, so Sylvia made sure she said all the right things.
Several phone calls later, they agreed to meet. “She said on a Wednesday that we’d meet on that Friday night for dinner, without the knowledge of her husband or her (other) daughter,” says Sylvia.
But her mother chickened out and stood Sylvia up. What hurt Sylvia most was that during all the conversations they had, it was all about her mother’s daughter, her mother’s husband, her mother’s beatings from Sylvia’s father. It was all about her. “Occasionally, when her conscience kicked in, she asked about me,” says Sylvia. “If I got beaten as a child, if I smoked or if I was mad at her.”
That was the last time Sylvia heard from her mother. She is not thinking about remarrying.
Are you a divorced parent and would like to share your story or comments with us? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org