For the child of a bad marriage

by Carolyn on June 27, 2009

support one anotherI am lucky enough to already have a faithful reader and diligent commenter of my work here. And she’s not even a child of divorce! Something about my writing touches her as it has for a small handful of you who have reached out and shared your stories and feelings with me. I can hardly express how much of an honour it is to bear witness.

But something this particular reader wrote in a few of her comments had set me to thinking. I am really attuned to my own situation. I know all about being a child of divorce. I am acknowledging the pain and legacy involved by writing about it here. But I am also aware of other painful family circumstances. And setting aside abuse, neglect and abandonment (which of course are the pinnacle of pain for any human being); there is an outcome worse than being a child of divorce.  You could be a child of a bad marriage.

I remember being bewildered by the news that my parents were separating. I was too young to really understand, so at the time I didn’t process it at all. But I do remember being perplexed. I had never seen them fight. Of course that was the right thing for them to do, not allowing me to observe the arguments they surely must have had. But it did add a confusing aspect to it all. To this day I don’t have any memory of my parents being in the same room together while they were married. Even memories dating back to when I knew they were still together only include either one or the other. Perhaps a three year old’s memories are too muddy. Or perhaps that alone tells the tale.

It could have been worse. Divorce has spread it’s fingers into every aspect of my life. But I am lucky. My parents both remarried and have been in successful marriages for over 25 years. Experts say that children of divorce have difficulty in their own marriages because they don’t have a positive model for marriage. But that doesn’t apply to me. And I’m not sure if it really applies to any child of divorce. We may have a poor model for conflict resolution in relationships, but I’m not sure if you can blanket that over our entire perception of marriage. Especially if like me, your parents kept their discord well hidden.

This is not so for the child of a bad marriage. How can they even hope to gain their positive model? And since familiarity is like a comfortable blanket that we instinctively reach out for again and again, they must be gripped with the fear of repeating their parents mistakes. I’m sure many, like my reader go through times when the mere thought of getting married felt ridiculous. And should these brave souls decide to venture into matrimony and child-rearing, they then need to make a decision each and every day to not fall into the patterns they were shown, but to forage a new path for themselves. And that’s a tall order for anybody.

So for all of the tribulation I have accepted as a child of divorce, I feel pretty fortunate. It could have been worse. My parents could have stayed married thinking that it would be best for me. I’m thankful they didn’t. I’m thankful I’m not a grown up child of a bad marriage.

~ for Urchin

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Divorce does hurt it's children — The Grown Up Child
November 21, 2009 at 12:16 am
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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Urchin June 27, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Honestly I don’t know what to say to this other than the standard and very insufficient, “Thank you.” I’m not sure how else to respond.

I don’t know that you’re the lucky one . I’ve always (well most of my life) known that my father was… less than pleasant. It’s something my mother is only now learning. They fought, yes. Quite often. Before I moved out a year and a half ago it was with me my dad fought the most. I was playing the martyr. Idiotically. I would fight with him, so my mother wouldn’t have to.

Yes, it was a bad marriage, but it did teach me things.

How not to be. I had people who cared about me, who tried to teach me that I was worthy of my scars. I was too much in the thick of it at the time to realize that though. There are people who saved my life. Literally. The community theatre I volunteered with became the family I turned to. They made me feel comfortable in their company. Not comfortable enough to let down all my walls, mind you, but enough that they could see through the windows every now and then.

In particular the director, Maureen. Mo. She pulled me out of a very dark place. A place I still glimpse every now and then, and even slide towards, but I have a growing collection of “good people” I keep close. I’m very particular when it comes to my collection. That’s part of what my parents taught me. To be particular. To be cautious, but to remember that there are good times.

Neither of us are the “lucky one” as far as being the children of divorce or bad marriages go. It’s not a good situation to be in regardless of how it turns out. Just because we survive it, doesn’t make it okay. But we have survived it. You and I both. In our own ways and with our own collection of “good people.”

I may be foraging, but I’m going, as Frank would say, “North.” I may get a little turned around every now and then, but I’ll find my way.

Thank you again.

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2 Carolyn June 27, 2009 at 9:51 pm

It’s an interesting debate. What is better for a child. Having people endure each other for the child’s sake or divorcing for a chance to be happy themselves and hopefully in turn be better parents. I’d bet people feel pretty strongly one way or the other.

When I mentioned this post to my mom, she disagreed with me. She feels kids always want their parents together and my feelings are a reflection of my maturity. But in all honesty I don’t ever remember having any desire for my parents to be together. Ever. But I guess I only have an accurate pulse on how I feel now.

We are akin to each other. We children of divorce and bad marriages. Until meeting you I never really knew that. It’s very interesting.

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3 Frank June 29, 2009 at 4:06 pm

And me. The grown up child of a very good marriage. My parents have been married for over 50 years and are still very much in love. They’re both wonderful people.

How, you wonder, could this ever be a bad thing? Because it sets the bar awfully high. Prospective partners have almost an impossible standard to meet. My brother and sister have both been married and divorced already. I’ve never made it down the aisle.

Don’t think it isn’t related.

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4 Carolyn June 29, 2009 at 8:24 pm

That would be a high standard to live up to. It’s interesting how there’s always benefits and drawbacks to any situation.

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5 Paula March 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm

I stumbled on this website by accident I guess. But I think it is good and interesting that you have a blog dedicated to this. My only response can be that when I was little, I almost prayed my parents would divorce because the pain of living with it and in it was too much to carry. Unlike your parents, my parents involved me… I am the oldest of three children. From as early as I can possibly remember, I was the one my mother would go to, talk to, show her bruises to, and eventually grew up too fast into the main supporter of a family and marriage that was shattered decades before it ended. Now, finally, they are getting divorced, after my mother found out my father has been with another woman for nearly four years now. I would have to say that what makes it most difficult is being the daughter of a father that inflicted so much pain and abuse… it feels wrong to love him, wrong to despise him, wrong to support or alienate him. I shut him out of my life recently, I am only in my second year of college and now, only now, is the past catching up to me. thank you for writing, I think you touch a lot of people in a meaningful way.

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6 Carolyn March 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Paula. You have touched me in a meaningful way as well. The struggle that you speak of is utterly heart wrenching. It’s such a catch 22, isn’t it? Wrong to love, wrong to hate.

As children we are programed to love our parents above all else. Despite who they are or what they do. And when we are old enough to recognize that a parental relationship is not healthy for us, we do have the means and capability to turn away from it. But not without much heartache which becomes compounded by all the crap that led us to that point. It’s a mess. Is there any other way to really describe it?

Welcome, Paula. I hope you continue to find comfort in this corner of the internet and I hope as well that you will share with us again.

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7 Urchin March 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Paula,

Wow. My father didn’t use physical violence often and when he did I can honestly say that it wasn’t on the same scale as what you witnessed and were talked to about. It is hard though, watching someone you love go through that, and going through it yourself. I’m glad, so very glad, that your mother is getting out of that situation.

-Urchin

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8 Courtney Weisz April 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm

As I was writing a paper for my English class, I came upon this article. As I started reading this, I began to think of how I grew up. A child of divorce, I never really considered how it truely affected me. Not realizing everything until I became older. I too had never seen my parents fight or argue in front of me and my siblings. But, even at a young age, I knew something was different between my family and my friends families. Seeing my friends with both of their parents, while I usually was only with my mother. I always wanted to know why they had not been together, but I never knew how to ask them. Growing farther apart from my father I knew almost everything would change, and I wanted to know more and more. I tried asking my siblings what was going on, but the words never came out. I still saw my father a little as I grew up, but not as much as a daughter should have seen her father. Becoming closer and closer with my mother, I was ready to push my father out of my life completely. So I did. For 8 years I never saw him but maybe once. Talked to him on the phone maybe once or twice a year, if even that. But those phone calls soon stopped. But after reading this article I realized, my father wasn’t the bad guy in thsi situation, that my life was not in a bad marriage, and what my parents did when I was younger in fact helped me understand more. Both my parents have re-married and are both happy, and I have been trying to rekindle the relationship with my father. I know many children now are having a worst divore between their parents than I did. This article truely did help me, and I thank you for helping me realize the things I should have realized earlier.

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9 Heather E March 19, 2011 at 12:59 am

Thank you so much for posting this! I would fall into the category of “child of a bad marriage”. I actually discovered this children of divorce blogging world because I am now a stepmom and want to make sure my stepson has the best possible relationship with his mom, dad, myself and my children (his half-brothers).

I must admit that the 1st blog I found written by an adult child of divorce scared me a bit. She has so much bitterness about her situation that it seems to color everything else in her life. I want better for my stepson. But there was also a part of me that wanted to tell her that it might not have been any better if her parents had stayed together. I didn’t think she would want to hear that from a stepmom, so I left it alone, but I am glad you are saying what I can not!

The first time I actually remember begging my parent to divorce was when I was 14. But I clearly remember being 6 years old and hiding with my sister in her closet while my parents raged at each other down the hall. It never got physical so we never thought it was abusive and therefore thought it must be normal. To make a long story short, my dad might actually die because they never got divorced. He was recently diagnosed with a terminal disease. There are treatments that could prolong his life, but they require a lot of effort on his part and support from his family. He also recently found out about mt mom’s 15 year affair. He has fallen into a depression so deep that he rarely leaves the house. I can’t blame my mom for the affair… he made her life miserable for so long. But he was/is a good dad, so I can’t hate him either and I certainly don’t wish him dead! I love both my parents and just imagine what life would have been like if they wouldn’t have “stayed together for the children”.

This marriage will also probably end my mom’s life early as well. She has MS and her depression has taken away her ability to fight the disease. She has put on weight and drowns her sorrows in junk food. Her MS leaves her with only some good days and mostly bad days, but on her good days she hides from my dad in her room. She has switched her nights and days so she can avoid my dad as much as possible. I have 3 little kids that get up early so that has effectively removed her from my life.

I thought my boys would give them something to live for, and although they love my children with all their hearts, it is not enough to make them turn their lives around. They have to love themselves and their own lives enough for that, but they carry too much guilt, too much anger, too much resentment, too much bitterness… need I go on?

So I am sorry for all of you whose parents divorced. I see my stepson struggle and my heart goes out to him. But it probably would have been hard either way. I am just going to try and give my boys what I never had: a loving home. And thank God, that is what I have. My husband is amazing and I love my family. So at least my parents taught me what NOT to settle for!

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10 Alex December 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm

My parents marriage is about to reach 35 years, but of the 22 that I’ve seen, the marriage is like a prison sentence for my mom.

My parents always argued violently, and my dad used to psychically hit my mom for many years. The arguments would always end with my mom apologizing. Over time my mom had several affairs, my dad found out, but instead of divorcing, they would just argue for years about it.

These days they don’t argue as much, but my moms life is still a drag. She has to tell my dad who she has seen, what she has done, her phone history etc… Their relationship seems very boring for her, she cant do anything without his approval, she is stuck.

So how has this affected me?
I have NOT become a controlling violent man like my dad, instead, I feel I have become more like my mom, very fearful of everyday things, a bit of a walkover to other people, scared of people, and cowardly in conflict. I’ve never been able to have a relationship or a date, or any kind of intimacy. I don’t even have close friends. I don’t have any confidence, any real ambition, and fear that any future partner would resent me over time for some reason.

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11 John April 22, 2013 at 9:52 am

hey i think this site is great. My parents argue alot but i try every day to continue to believe they love each other. I dont know, sometimes i get really jealous of other families who seem to have it all. All i have ever asked for was a happy home, but it is a struggle. It is a hard burden to bear, especially when people expect you to be happy and cheerful everyday.

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