I Am an Adult Child of Divorce

When I was 24 years old, my parents separated. I was an adult, perfectly capable of taking care of myself – I had traveled the world, lived by myself for several years, created my own life – yet it completely destroyed me. I felt as if I couldn’t breathe, as if life was over, as if everything had been a lie. I didn’t want to live as a part of this new family scene, to be honest. And I felt ashamed. Deeply, painfully, excruciatingly ashamed. See, all throughout my childhood, our family had always seemed the steady one. The family where there was lots of time spent together, where there was no drama, where we laughed plenty. You know. It was… all good. My parents always held hands when they went for walks. They never fought, or even raised their voices. We traveled together. Played cards together. Dealt with life together. Our little group of four (I have an older brother) was always my rock, my point of safety. And I thought of it very highly. But ever since I was a little girl, I’d been scared to death my parents would one day divorce. I had them promise me that would never happen every single night for years when they tucked me in at night. I asked them if they loved each other often, I asked them to tell me exactly how much. I couldn’t stand the idea of them even disagreeing about the smallest thing. Due to the disconnect between what I lived (a safe, solid family life) and what I was afraid of (that it would all come tumbling down), it’s hard to understand why my fear was so pronounced at such an early age. Until my parents actually did divorce, I didn’t suffer any traumatic separations. I have – thankfully – never lost a loved one or been left by someone I cared for. And, as I’ve already touched upon, my parents’ behavior never indicated to me that something was seriously messed up. Yet, I was terrified. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I must have been picking up on subtle signals and maybe even subconscious actions and reactions without reflecting upon it myself. All 5-year-old me felt was a deep, endless fear that I would end up as one of those kids with divorced parents. From as early as I can remember, that was my absolute nightmare. I can still, at the age of 31, feel the fear I felt then. That I would be one of those kids. The kids with a troubled family situation. The kids who had to keep track of mom-week and dad-week. The kids who were sent to school without a properly packed backpack because one parent thought the other one would take care of that snack, that change of clothes, that signed note, that homework. I feared being forgotten about. Left to fend for myself. And what others would think.

I wanted the ‘perfect’ family so badly. I remember pushing my parents towards each other, telling them to kiss (I realize I’m sounding like one heck of a freaky kid, just so you know). Looking back, I’m confident I did things like that to silence my worries. If they kiss, they must be happy, right? And if they’re happy, they’ll stay together and it’ll all be good. What’s been hard for me now in my adult life, when processing the separation and pondering my childhood, is accepting that my emotional state – as a little girl – doesn’t quite resonate with the environment I grew up in. And that’s okey. I’ve asked myself countless times during the years following the (actual) divorce – did I make it all up? Are all those happy times I can remember so vividly just in my head? Did I in fact grow up in a family where there was no laughter, no spending time together, no love? Where parents yelled at each other, where frustration was overflowing, where things were falling apart? But the answer is – after endless contemplating – no. What I saw and heard and was a part of my first 24 years of my life was… good. Not perfect, not at all, but, you know, good. Sure, I was struggling personally for periods of time. But my family situation as a whole was a pretty undramatic story. What I can see now though, from a more clearheaded perspective – a perspective less obsessed with the idea of appearing ‘perfect’ – is that there was individual unhappiness. It pains me, both knowing it and acknowledging it in front of others now. But it’s true. And I know I somehow felt it all, as a kid. To be completely honest, the burden of worry that I carried was so vast, so colossal, so far-reaching that the day I learned my parents were splitting up, I experienced a sliver of relief amidst the grief. My worst fear had come true, and as strange as it may sound, that meant I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

My mom and I, the day Michael and I got married. 

Someone I look up to said a while back ”there’s a difference between being personal and being private”. I want to be personal here. I want to share things that are hard to share, things that others might struggle with too, things that matter (but also happy stuff – I trust you understand my point). But private? Nah, I think we should all be private. To me, the distinction between the two is fairly straightforward – when I talk about myself and what I’ve been through, I’m being personal. However, disclosing information about others (except funny and quirky stories) falls into the ‘private’ category. With that said, I’ll skip the details of my parents going separate ways. We can just summarize the whole ordeal by concluding it was the best thing that could have happened in the end. It forced me headfirst down to rock bottom, which was necessary for all the good things that have happened since to unfold. Moving to New York, meeting Mike, switching focus in life, slowing down, moving back to Sweden. It’s all intertwined. I relied way too heavily on my family and its support system to properly test my wings. I was too much a part of the “group” to be fully my own. Today, I’ve made peace with it all. And as one big glorious bonus, I’ve scored a whole bunch of new, wonderful family members. You all know who you are.

There’s just one thing lingering, which I’m working on getting rid of (no easy task, let me tell you). So here we go. Considering my past, it’s no surprise that I’m afraid Michael will leave me one day. It’s not something that’s on my mind all the time. A week and even a month could by without me thinking about it. But once in a while – be it because I happen to be feeling a little vulnerable or because I might be thinking I did something wrong – it hits me. Thankfully, it’s one of those things I simply can’t shut up about so it just pours right out of me. I say “I think you want to divorce me now”, and Michael will do one of two things – he’ll either stay serious, wrap his arms around me and tell me it’ll never happen or… he’ll start laughing. If the latter, I’ll start laughing too and then we just laugh together. At me. At him. At us. At life. At me thinking he’d leave me because I wanted to go for a longer run or do faster intervals or maybe make that one dish vegan instead of vegetarian. Whichever way Michael chooses in order to comfort me, he somehow always manages to pick the right one in every given situation. Don’t even ask me how he does it, but I guess he knows his wife by now! Regardless – I’m happy to say that bit by bit, I’m chipping away at this massive block of fear I have. And I’m one lucky girl to be doing it with such a loving man’s hand in mine, cheering me on as we navigate life together.

When things you don’t want to happen happen anyway, and when life is flipped upside down before you even had the chance to buckle up, it can be incredibly difficult to accept, let go and move on. With this whole thing, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But it’s possible. To those of you out there affected by separation in one way or another – whether you’re the wife, the husband, the child, the sibling, the parent – it stinks. But it won’t stink forever. What felt like a family being torn apart ended up becoming a bigger, better version in my case. All stories won’t end the same way, but trust me when I say this: for a long time, I saw no light. If I had read what I just wrote, I would have said “yeah, maybe for you it turned out good but there’s no way that’s happening to me”. What is it that they say… that the darkest hour is just before dawn? I think I’ll let that wrap up this piece – it won’t last forever, whatever your struggle is. And as far as my own, I’m working on letting go of fear and embracing trust. Because in the end, that will make this thing called life a whole lot more awesome.

4 thoughts on “I Am an Adult Child of Divorce

    1. Dena, you were in my thoughts as I wrote this piece. Obviously, I’m aware of what you’re going through and I just have to emphasize what’s already been written above – it won’t stink forever. I promise! Lots of love from us ❤️

  1. What a beautifully written personal story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and fears. Your willingness to share and to be vulnerable is such a gift to your readers!

    1. Thank you so much, Danielle, for those kind words! Means the world to me. It’s scary, this whole sharing-thing, but it’s 100% worth it. Love to you!

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