“All families are psychotic, so sayeth Douglas Coupland” (Me, just now).
OMG guys, I just realized. My parents are divorced. This must mean that I’m going to be a horrible influence on my child.
Ok, so divorce sucks. I’m not gonna lie; however, it’s a total misconception that the children of divorced parents are more likely to be messed up than those who grow up in that ever-revered all-hallowed nuclear family unit. In my personal experience I have known well-adjusted people whose parents are divorced and people with severe addictions and personality disorders whose parents are still married even to this day. Who’s to say what’s worse? For all the academic articles out there warning of the negative impacts of divorce on children there are just as many that focus on the effects of abuse, including that elusive, constantly slipping under the radar mother effer, verbal abuse —if any kind of abuse is slippery, that’s the one because it is the least reported and most invisible (see Teicher et al., 2006). Have you reached out and touched an insult lately? I didn’t think so. Abuse happens in nuclear families too.
Why on earth am I thinking about this? Because my brain is in the bad place. You know, that place where it goes to get angry and/or feel sorry for itself. Postpartum depression aside, my whole life I have been inadvertently punished by others because my parents couldn’t get along. Nice thing to put on a kid, people. Just sayin’.
My first divorce related owie came shortly after my parents separated. I noticed that suddenly my best friend wasn’t allowed to sleep over anymore. It took some plying, but I finally got her to confess that her mom believed that children of broken homes were bad influences. Say what!? I was pretty much an angel during my teen years. I never really rebelled. Maybe I rebelled a bit in my early to mid 20s, but that’s pretty late! Far later than the sensitive young age of 13 anyway, which is when this offense occurred. Parents should have been begging my parents to let me hang around their kids. I was a total nerd. My homework was always done early, my idea of a good time was to get an A on an assignment, and my extra-curricular of choice? Solo clarinetist for our regional youth orchestra. Oh yeah. I was the biggest badass out there, clearly.
The next time I was faced with a similar comment was probably five years later. I was waiting for class to start and the girl next to me turned to me and said, “Hey, do you think you’ve had so many boyfriends because your parents are divorced and you don’t live with your dad?” Uh… holy inappropriate comment Batman. Ok ok. There was probably some context, but I truly don’t remember the nature of the conversation. What I do remember is that this chick was no friend of mine and whether or not I had daddy issues was none of her beeswax.
Admittedly, I have boyfriend hopped a bit. I guess I was a nerd that never had a problem in that department? I dated other nerds, wannabe badasses and real badasses. Actually, that’s it. I had three boyfriends during high school. Those identifiers should all be singular. It wasn’t that I dated a lot of guys, it was just that there wasn’t much time between each relationship. Is that because my parents are divorced? Who the hell can say? And why is it even a bad thing? I was a teenager! Teenagers do stupid stuff, and of all the stupid things I could have been doing that was the least of my parents’ worries. Geez.
Most recently, since becoming a mom, I have been faced with criticism from people thinking that I might not have what it takes to hold a family together simply because my parents are divorced. Seriously, people need to get over it. In a society where more than 50% of couples get divorced (and I am in no way implying that this is good, I’m simply stating that it is) I think it’s time for us to redefine the norm. I don’t deserve to be pigeonholed as dysfunctional simply because my parents are divorced. Say, for example (and I stress that this was not the case), my father were physically abusing my mother in the years leading up to their divorce. Should they have stayed together simply because they took a vow? What is more harmful to the children of that union? Most would argue that divorce is best for the children in this case. What if physical abuse wasn’t the problem, but rather verbal abuse? Children that grow up being exposed to verbal abuse can develop severe anxiety and/or depression (Teicher et al., 2006). They can become dependent on substances, develop a slew of behavioural disorders, or end up being bullies and abusers themselves (Suh & Abel, 1990; Tang, 1997). For example, the number one cause of compulsive lying disorder is fear (Kartha, n.d.). Fear of what? Fear of a beating? Fear of being screamed at? Children are sensitive and they want to avoid all these things, so why wouldn’t they develop coping mechanisms such as these? In this case, is the child better off having lived in a household with insults bouncing off of every surface, or would they have been better off if the parents went their separate ways? In fact, it is widely acknowledged in academic literature on divorce that the anguish and resulting behavioural problems that develop in the children of divorced parents are not a product of the termination of the marriage, but are rather a result of the conflict witnessed between parents while the marriage was still in tact (Adamson & Thompson, 1998; Emery, 1988; Long et al, 1987).
The point that I am trying to make is that we shouldn’t judge. Unless you have lived it you do not know the circumstances and should not presume to know anything about a person one way or another simply based on the marital status of his or her parents. It’s quite ludicrous when you really think about it. All of these judgments come from the analytical mind anyway. They come from a place of ego where we have formed opinions based on a belief that one upbringing is ‘better’ than another. The ever popular Eckhart Tolle urges us to become free of these types of judgements —”free of the egoic mind” (2004).
The truth: The circumstances of my parents’ divorce are nobody’s business but their own. I certainly don’t have all the details, nor do I want them. By definition, yes, my home was ‘broken’. But does that mean my upbringing was lacking love and direction? My parents loved me, they just didn’t love each other anymore (and even then I don’t think things are ever that simple). They taught me to treat others as I’d like to be treated —to love and treat my family and friends with respect and to never take them for granted. They encouraged me to get an education and to travel the world. We weren’t rich by any means, but I had everything I could have ever needed and then some. They taught me the value of a dollar and that hard work pays off. Does being divorced negate everything they did right?
Where am I going with all of this? Oh, yeah. I’ve got enough on my plate right now. I’m a new mom. I’m sleep deprived. I’m learning new things every day. I’d love to say that I’ve reached some level of spiritual enlightenment where these things don’t affect me, but my life is so wrought with insecurity right now that I don’t have the where-with-all to chalk it up to ignorance and be the bigger person. I don’t need these kinds of insensitive comments. I’ll just get my back up and that’s never a good scene.
Children learn from example, and the most important thing is to raise them in households that uphold love and respect between all members. So that’s my plan. Love J, love little H, show them the respect they deserve and expect the same in return. This has nothing to do with marriage or divorce. It’s basic human decency.
If you want to be a part of this new life of mine by all means, come visit. However, I recommend that you check your ego at the door, lest you find it locked.
Adamson, J.L., and Thompson, R.A. (1998). Coping with interparental verbal conflict by children exposed to spouse abuse and children from non-violent homes. Journal of Family Violence, 13(3), 213-232.
Emery, R.E. (1988). Marriage, divorce and children’s adjustment. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Kartha, D. (No date). Compulsive liar treatment. Retrieved Jan 4, 2013, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/compulsive-liar-treatment.html.
Long, N., Forehand, R., Fauber, R., and Brody, G.H. (1987). Self-perceived and independently observed competence of young adolescents as a function of parental marital conflict and recent divorce. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15, 15-27.
Me. (1983-Present). My brain. Toronto, ON: Deal With It Press.
Suh, E.K., and Abel, E.M. (1990). The impact of spousal violence on children of the abused. Journal of Independent Social Word, 4(4), 27-34.
Tang, C.S. (1997). Psychological impact of wife abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12(3), 466-478.
Teicher, M.H., Samson, J.A., Polcari, A., and McGreenery, C.E. (2006). Sticks, stones, and hurtful words: Relative effects of various forms of childhood maltreatment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(6), 993-1000.
Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now. Novato, California: New World Library.