My parents were the first true loves of my life. I felt safe with them and in our family home. Our home was warm and welcoming, and my parents always made us a priority in their lives. I knew I could depend on them, and they were predictable, which was the best feeling in the world.
I never had to worry about my parents not being there for me or not being supportive. It didn’t matter what kind of day I had either. When I got home I knew they would be there and everything would be okay. I do not remember a time at this age when I felt disappointment or anger towards my parents. When the bus would drop me off after school I couldn’t wait to get inside. It was my safety net, and I could breathe.
If Dad was off that day, he would be home waiting. If he was working the day shift, it wasn’t uncommon for Mom to leave a love note to Dad before he left that morning. Every day on her lunch hour she would come home and begin prepping the meal we were eating that evening.
Our family had a lot of friends. I remember my parents having family and friends over to play the card games, Spades, and Rook. While the adults played, the children played together. There was always a delicious meal and dessert served. Those nights were special to me because we felt footloose and fancy free! We were able to stay up just as late as our parents and could play outside with our friends and cousins just as long.
On those special evenings we were even allowed to drink a Coke®, and that was a big treat! As I stood back and looked at the table of adults my parents always stood out to me. They were always laughing and seemed so happy. I thought my mom was a beautiful lady and my dad was so handsome, both with gorgeous smiles. I wanted what they had when I grew up; good times, lots of laughs, and a house filled with love.
We watched reruns of a black and white television sitcom back then named “Leave it to Beaver.” The suburban family seemed flawless. I tell people all of the time that we were that family. At that age, I do not recall wishing for a better life, a different life, or a life without my family around me. There wasn’t anything else I desired during that time. Much to my surprise, the life I had known for nine years was about to change.
A family meeting was called, and we all met in the living room. This time was different. The room was silent and there was not any chatter. The television was not on, and I could hear the humming of the ceiling fan. I began to feel more nervous than usual. Our parents were not making eye contact and things seemed off balanced. They sat down on the front hearth of the fireplace. Dad was shaking his legs, and Mom was rubbing her hands. We kids looked at each other puzzled on what this family meeting could be about. The tension in the room was thick and the air was stale. My heart was thumping fast. Our parents looked at each other and started to speak.
The first words out of my mom’s mouth were, “You know how much your daddy and I love you. We want to talk to you about some changes.” And after two sentences some of their words became a blur to me. Once I heard “We are going to separate,” I felt sick to my stomach and the room was spinning. I was in a state of shock. I remember their lips moving, but all I could do was cry. I had the ugly cry going on with a snotty nose, bright red face, and dry heaving. I remember wanting to scream as loud as I could in hopes that it would drown out the shock, hurt, and anger. This wasn’t about us breaking something, a misplaced laundry basket, or not doing our chores. My mind was racing with questions. What happened? When did things go wrong?
I never heard my parents argue or witnessed them be short with each other. I found out from my sister, there was only one time she thought she overheard them in a heated discussion when she got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. But at the time I wasn’t even aware of that incident. I didn’t understand. They are going to separate and give it some time? What does that mean? How much time? I remember my dad getting extremely outraged, but I honestly cannot tell you everything he said.
I remember him yelling and his face turning red, but again a lot of it was a blur. It felt like I was in a small tunnel and once I heard certain words I shut down and the room closed in on me. Tricia recalls him standing up and saying, “No, if I leave we are getting a divorce. It’s all or nothing!” He then swung his arms like an umpire calling someone safe in a baseball game. She felt like he was giving up on saving our family.
My parents separated and Dad lived at the camp. He moved back home for what seemed like a short while, and then they told us they were getting a divorce. My ears heard them say, “It’s not working out.” “This is not your fault.” “It’s between us.” And I am thinking, “Did this really happen? Have they had time to make such a huge decision? Did they try everything to make it work? What about our family?” It went by so fast. I was so confused and hurt, I believe I have blocked out some parts of my life during that time. I think it is because I don’t want to remember it, none of it. It was during a time in my life where everything I knew was changing.
I felt as though we all had to learn how to live in this new life, because it was never going to be the same, ever. And it wasn’t. The separation went by quickly and then BAM, divorce! Did they really give it a chance to work it out (whatever that means)? I was surprised we didn’t have a say in this. As a child, “working it out” meant fix the problem at hand. My older sister didn’t seem to have the same reaction as me, and my brother did not completely understand what was happening because he was so young.
My world undeniably came to an end at that point. I was devastated, hurt, and angry at both of them. Not to mention completely embarrassed. What would I say to my friends? My middle school days were already feeling overwhelming enough! Times seemed tough. I was at a new school, and it was so much bigger than elementary school. My body was changing. I was trying to decide where I fit in. I felt awkward. All of the pressures of middle school, and now a divorce? From the outside, we had it all, but obviously, something was wrong that I didn’t know about. Why weren’t they honest with us? Were they being fake in front of us, our family, and friends? For how long? There were so many questions.
They were always there for me, always a constant, and now what? How would my routine be different than what it is now? I was completely unsure how my life was going to change and unfold. My heart was broken into many pieces and it seemed like my feelings mattered, but then again, they didn’t, because my parents were not going to stay together, which is not what I wanted. My feelings were normal for a child.
Children are just that, children. They are only going to think of themselves in a general sense and only think about how something is affecting them. Children have little experience in life. They are not thinking, “Well, they love me. It will be okay. This is just about their relationship not working.”
If you think of the worst-case scenario of what your children may be concerned about, they have thought about it, heard it or heard something similar (relative to their age). Children will only go by what they hear from friends, what they have seen on television, read on the internet, and scrolled through on social media unless you tell them otherwise.
Even after you share positive messages with them over and over, they will continue to long for your reassurance.
Parents are our first true loves, so do not tell your children, “We fell out of love.” or “We do not love each other anymore.” Children cannot process these words or change of emotions. To them, this happened overnight, regardless of whether or not you have been having issues for a while. Children will start to question, “Can they fall out of love with me too?” This creates a nervous feeling and more anxiety about what is to come in the future with their parent/child relationship.
Telling Your Children About Your Divorce
Initial communication regarding your divorce should be as short as possible. Let your children know there will be changes because of the divorce, and that you will both be there for them no matter what. Choose your wording carefully. Be united in front of your children. Before you meet with them, discuss what you are going to say and be prepared for anything. If their questions become too difficult, hug them and say, “We will get through this as a family.”
My parents managed this well, overall. My mom kept it together although dad lost it, but there was still communication. It was heated and emotional for all of us, but I was glad we had the talk.
I was so stunned by it all that I am not sure how I would have reacted if they handled it any other way. I’ve heard of other instances where the parents didn’t talk to the children. They came home one day and one of the parents had moved out while they were at school, and the mom or dad had to tell the children alone.
The parents thought it was best to avoid the children seeing the other one move out and it would be less emotional for the family.
Is this emotionally healthy?
Consider Your Children’s Feelings
Unless abuse is a factor, I would be concerned if it were handled this way. Children perceive situations, actions, and words totally differently than adults, as they do not have adult reasoning.
The feeling of abandonment comes to mind, as well as the children feeling as though it is that one parent’s fault and the other parent was kicked out. Or vice versa, one didn’t care enough to stay or to say goodbye.
Neither parent should have to endure the discussion alone. The children were made by both of the parents and it is both parents’ responsibility. It is not about you at this point, as you have made your decision as a couple regarding your marital status. In going forward, it’s about the children and what is best for them. I cannot express this enough.
Children are dependents and parents are responsible for loving them, supporting them, protecting them, and caring for them in every way. With that comes sacrifices and not being focused on what is easiest for you. Like my mom used to say, “The hardest thing to do is usually the right thing to do.”
About Please Don’t Divorce Me
Vickie Hall’s Please Don’t Divorce Me is candidly written as a timeless parent’s guide from a child’s perspective aiming at fostering a healthy transition and minimizing hurt for what is already a difficult time in a child’s life. Please don’t divorce your children.