Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Plea to Divorcing and Divorced Parents

Last week I wrote these words on Facebook:
39 years ago today my parents marriage was declared dead by the courts and buried. Even though it had died months, perhaps years earlier, that was the official end. February 10, 1978. It was one month, exactly, short of their 32nd anniversary.It is disconcerting that a marriage that old can up and die and I find myself eager to make it to the 32 year mark with my own marriage as if some family curse may hunt me down and doom me to a similar tortured fate. And yet I still have 3 years and 3 months to go before I hit that mark.I have to remind myself that a marriage that dies at 32 years probably wasn't super healthy at 29 years. That most marriages don't die out of the blue. Yet I have to be honest. Even though I am married to the one person I trust the most on the entire planet, I fear. Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.I sometimes wonder if anybody else has a similar fear. If your parents' marriage failed, do you ever fear yours will, too?

This was a hard post for me to write. More vulnerable than even what is normal for me, Ginny the Transparent. My hands got sweaty and my heart raced as I posted it and I felt heaping blobs of shame fall upon my shoulders. But I did it anyway because I wanted other people who may share my story to not feel so alone. Because this is how we connect.

Perhaps that is the legacy of divorce.

I fear that some of you, upon reading that line, if you read it and are divorced, may have felt the evil finger of accusation and the branding iron of guilt searing your soul. That was not my intention. It was so not my intention.

My mother was the one that filed for divorce. She did not do it lightly. She did so after decades of infidelity on the part of my father. She did so with evidence. She did so in spite of the fact that it was the last thing she wanted. If nothing else, divorce was a downright embarrassment for her. This was the upper middle-class South in the 1970s. But most of all, she did so in spite of the fact that she loved him because it was obvious that he no longer loved her and had moved on.

Divorce happens. It happens a lot. We all know it. Sometimes it happens flippantly because "we fell out of love." Not so cool. Other times it happens because one party forsook their marriage vows to love, honor, cherish....whether by means of adultery, abuse, or desertion. At these times divorce is a legitimate option for the non-offending party. (This isn't meant to be a treatise on the theological aspects of divorce and remarriage.)

But back to what I said. My parents' divorce impacted me in a way I didn't even comprehend at the time. The actual time frame, from when my mother told me of their impending divorce, to the time it was final, was perhaps less than 3 months. My father moved out about 2 weeks after I was told of the divorce. (From then on out I saw him about once, maybe twice, a year, even though he lived in the same town.)

For my mother, the trauma of losing her husband of almost 32 years absolutely devastated my mother. I can remember her on the floor, sobbing, screaming, yelling, crying. I had no idea what to do. I was 14.

My mother never really recovered. Not anytime soon. She was terribly depressed. She would disappear for hours. She quit speaking to me altogether for a few months. Now I know. Now I know that sometimes trauma is so great that it totally overwhelms your ability to cope. (I know what it is like. I have been there with my own children. I have had my coping skills overwhelmed. Surviving seems too lofty a goal.)

What I am trying to say is that I, in effect, lost both my parents that day. At least for a time. There were many professionals over the years who told my mother that she needed antidepressants but she declined. I don't know, for the life of me, why she didn't seek counseling and as much support as she could. It just wasn't done back then. Not in her eyes.

What I am trying to say is that if you are a divorced or a divorcing parent, I plead with you to reach out for support and to get your emotional needs met in a healthy way so that you can be emotionally available for your children. They need you. They won't care (much?) if you are living in a dumpy apartment or somebody's basement or don't have the cool shoes like their friends. They will care that you are emotionally available to them.

There is no shame in doing what you need to do in order to be a healthier person for your kids. You are of great worth. To others. To them. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

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