I am going to tell a very personal story this week, and one that strikes at the very heart of who I have become as a person. It was close to this date 34 years ago that my mom and dad had “the talk” with me and my sisters. No, it wasn’t THAT talk, where we learned that the stork actually had very little to do with the appearance of babies. It was one that has become just as familiar in these times, the talk where your parents inform you that they would not be living together anymore, and dad (as it most often is) will be soon collecting his belongings and moving somewhere else. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, but it seems almost everyone can relate to this talk on a personal level, and remembers what it felt like when they were informed of the new reality, almost regardless of their ages at the time.
If anything, I really don’t recall this being the traumatic and life-changing event one might imagine it was. It is difficult to remember all the words that were said and emotions felt, but I do have a recollection of the lack of clear emotional responses any of us gave in that moment. Neither my sisters nor I cried, got angry, or even really understood what divorce meant at that time. Rather, in our own ways, each of us simply accepted that this was now going to happen, much like we accepted that each summer would invariably come to an end, or that we were expected to make our beds each morning. It was another of life’s events that we dealt with, that at the time did not seem massively life-changing.
My own life journey, then, has seen relatively little trauma that could easily be attributed to my parents separating and later divorcing when I was 9 years old. Yes, it would have been nice to have someone to throw a baseball around with more often (though my stepfather eventually stepped into this role), and to teach me some of those “essentials of male life” on a deeper level at this time. It is quite humourous to now fumble my way through attempting to teach my son how to fish, for example, and am often asking others how to properly tie a lure and find good fishing spots! Nonetheless, I developed a relatively normal level of emotional health in adulthood, and the great trauma of the divorce hasn’t turned out to be a great trauma at all. How could this be?
- Separation from Conflict
My memories from around 1980 are understandably patchy, save for a couple of significant events. Neither of these events was related to witnessing conflict between my parents, or even feeling that they were not getting along very well. Regardless of what was actually occurring between them, the fact I can remember very little from that time suggests I was witness to very little conflict, particularly of the kind that took away physical or emotional safety. There is no doubt in my mind that I benefitted from this lack of witness, and thus never felt unsafe in my own home. In turn, I was able to avoid thoughts that my parents’ separation was somehow my fault, which is a shockingly common thought for many children going through this change.
- Enjoying who I Became
Despite the separation and divorce, my parents did not leave me with lingering reasons to doubt who I was or my own worth as I grew up. Though I admittedly struggled with figuring out who I was during my school years, and would have a tough time pointing to that period as the “best years of my life”, my own winding life journey was not derailed or compromised by my parents’ post-marriage dealings with each other. Instead, the normal ups and downs of growing up were allowed to occur naturally, and my process of self-discovery took place within a typical time frame. I certainly didn’t grow up problem-free, but I wouldn’t trade the journey for anything, and it brought me to a place that I am thrilled with today.
In our society, separation and divorce is a fact of life, and nobody can say with absolute certainty that neither could ever be possible. However, the manner in which that process unfolds can be one which either does not cause problems for affected children in the family, or can cause anxiety, frustration, anger, or many other emotions that can last for years, and affect our lives potentially well into adulthood. My own story is a personal reminder of this fact, and that my parents helped me in ways I could not have understood at the time to become healthy and happy in later years.
Next time: Lessons learned from growing up with a step-parent family.