Too much information

by Carolyn on July 30, 2009

Too much information!

Too much information!

If I had to choose one word to characterize how I viewed my parent’s divorce as a child, I would have called it ‘amicable’.  That all too broadly used term assigned to divorces when the couple are not trying to tear each other’s throats out in public.  It doesn’t mean the divorce wasn’t painful.  It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t bad feelings or even hostile behavior.  When applied to divorce, amicable doesn’t often mean friendly; it simply means not outwardly egregious.

But in my parent’s amicable divorce, I never saw them fight.  I never bore witness to any yelling matches or I dare say even disagreements.  At least none that I really noticed.  I don’t have any memory of them fighting within their marriage either.  I also don’t remember ever getting the ‘divorce’ talk.  You know, the one that parents have with kids to tell them that they are getting divorced but ultimately everything  will be okay.  It doesn’t mean I never got that talk, just that I have absolutely no recollection of it.  If it did happen, my three year old self either couldn’t grasp the concept or wasn’t really paying attention.

Although my parents were doing the right thing and I’m thankful to them for shielding me from the ugliness, both of these things together; the lack of discord and absence of an explanation, left me a little confused.  I remember wondering why they ever got divorced?  I wanted to understand what happened to break up my family.  But I worried that it was a taboo question.  A subject I just shouldn’t broach.  But one day when I was about twelve or thirteen I finally worked up the courage to ask my mom the question.

Her answer wasn’t ideal.  I didn’t wait for an appropriate moment and my mom had two toddlers running around her feet.  She didn’t think through her reply.  Instead she curtly stated that ‘it wasn’t any of my business’.  And that left me even more confused.  Was it really not my business?  If it wasn’t mine, then who’s was it?  I wish the circumstances had been different.  I wish I had asked during a quiet moment or that she had thought through her answer more carefully.  Because a few years later when my father offered to tell the tale, I was too thirsty for the knowledge that she had denied me.  And I hastily answered yes.

If knowledge is what I wanted, knowledge is what I got.  But five minutes into the talk I realized that the details weren’t what I had yearned for.  This was not the answer I’d been seeking.  But I didn’t know how to stop it.  Not yet strong enough to say I’d had enough and a small part of me wanting more.  Like coming upon an accident scene where you don’t want to look but can’t seem to turn away.  The sordid tale took a couple of nights to complete.  And I’ve always regretted hearing it.  It wasn’t the explanation I was craving.  Even at 15, what I wanted was the standard answer the experts prompt parents to give.  Something simple.  Generic.  Like ‘I just wasn’t happy in the marriage anymore’, or ‘We didn’t love each other the same way’.

And for those in nuclear families or divorced parents who are not children of divorce themselves, I can only think of one way to explain why the experts are right.  One equivalent that exemplifies why the intimate details of the break up are both inappropriate and unnecessary to children of divorce no matter what age we are.  Something we can all relate to in never wanting to be privy to.  Sex.  And I’m not referring to your sex life.  I’m referring to your parent’s.  (And I sense the resounding cringe!)

As young children, we don’t know about sex.  We all start out innocent.  But one day we are told a baby is in someone’s tummy.  It may be a sibling.  It may be a stranger.  Nonetheless, it can start a whole line of internal questioning.  How does that all work?  How did the baby get in there?  How will it get out?  Where did I come from, anyway?  Perhaps a classmate  gives us some hints on the playground, but at some point most of us usually go to the source.  A parent.  And we ask the question that makes all parents a little bit uneasy.  ‘Where do babies come from?’

And although we really want to know; need to learn at some point too.  And although a parent is the best person to relay the information; better than the host of half truths and wives tales floating around the school yard,  there is a line which should never be crossed.  The line of too much information.  I mean, you might really want to know how your soon to be baby sister came to exist in the first place, but you don’t want to hear about the details of her particular conception.  You might really want to understand your own origins, but I’m sure you don’t want the play by play of events from the night you came to be.  None of us likes to think of our parents as sexual beings.  We are much more comfortable with thinking they are celibately cohabiting.  We know they have sex or at least have had intercourse at some point in time (hence, procuring the family), it’s just nicer to think that it was all by accident.  Some drunken mishap that has never occurred since.

And it’s not like this changes as we age.  We don’t hit our thirties and suddenly think ‘wow, now I’m perfectly okay discussing mom and dad’s sex life with them’.  For those us unfortunate enough to have stumbled into witnessing our parents in any kind of sex act, having it seared it into our brains.  Is there a price you wouldn’t pay even now to erase it?  The last response we want to hear from our parents after asking how they’ve been is that they’re not getting much ‘bedroom action’ lately.  And I’m positive the feeling is both widespread and mutual.

The intricate details of a divorce can feel much the same.  They are private and intimate and they’re nothing that the children of the union need to learn.  What purpose can the knowledge serve us?  To make us feel bad for loving a parent that we can’t help but love?  To make us angry that our parents couldn’t be happy together?  To allow a parent to point the finger claiming innocence for themselves?  I don’t see how any of that benefits the child involved.  Yet so often I read about kids of divorce becoming apprised and even involved in the both the details of their parent’s divorce and subsequent romantic lives.  No longer being treated as children,  but as peers.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

Because children of divorce are children nonetheless.  Divorce changes a lot of things, but it should never change the roles of those involved.  The parent remains the parent and the child remains the child.  And just like parents of divorce don’t want to hear about the intimate details of thier own parent’s marriage, the child of divorce doesn’t want to hear about thiers.  Nobody really wants too much information.  Just enough usually does the trick.

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