For years, I resented my parents for splitting my life in two. I’d see my best friend’s parents sitting together at their dinner table, peacefully discussing their day, and would feel a horrible pang of jealousy. When we’d do arts and crafts in class, I would have to make two of whatever we were making and it made me feel embarrassed, being branded as the kid with two separate homes. I could never relate when people would discuss typical family dynamics, and I found myself envious when they’d talk about playing catch with their dad or their parents cuddling on the couch. I blamed them for making me miss out on a structured family—I felt as though they had robbed me.
It wasn’t that what they had done was actually selfish, though. They couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other, so even if they had stuck together, I wouldn’t have even had those same family dynamics. In reality, I grew up receiving pity for my situation, for only having one parent in my household. I was coerced into thinking that what my parents had done was inherently wrong simply because they were apart. Everyone made it seem like my family, and even my life, was bad because of their split.
Society often makes us think that divorce is the worst-case scenario, and that marriages that don’t last are inherently failed marriages. It makes us believe that nothing good can come from a divorce and that the family of the divorcees is a failure too.
Another common label attached to divorce is selfish. General unhappiness is nearly unacceptable at this point, and so divorcees are considered greedy for putting their own feelings before the status of their marriage in cases where the couple is simply just miserable together. In situations where children are involved and split between the parents, the blame is even worse. What about the kids? How are they going to be affected? While these people are busy forcing the strict traditional family structure and demonizing the parents, they fail to realize how the kids are actually affected.
I’ve survived the effects of divorce. I survived meeting halfway for visitation, and I survived having an empty chair at the dinner table. The worst of it was my arrogant, short-term anger. Other than my misunderstanding of the divorce, I had no long-term emotional trauma. On the other hand, some children don’t survive the effects of their parents refusing to divorce. Children who have unhappy parents grow up in an unhealthy environment; children who watch their parents yell at each other grow up not knowing how to properly interact with their significant other. They will watch as their parents drift apart. Their parents will resent the child for forcing them to stay together, and they won’t experience a proper parental relationship. When unhappy parents divorce, it gives more opportunity for healthy family dynamics—just separately. Even if it’s unconventional, it’s less scarring and torturous for everyone involved, including the kids.
Thinking that my parents’ divorce was selfish was a product of irrational and harmful traditionalism, as well as my own greed. No matter how much I wish my parents still slept in the same bed, I know they wouldn’t be able to sleep. And no matter how much I wish for full seats at the dinner table, I know we’d all lose our appetites. They are not selfish for wanting to shield us from an unhealthy home. No matter how much I once resented their decision, I’m incredibly thankful for the stability I have now, no matter how unconventional my family dynamic might seem.
It took a long time for me to understand their decision. I had to learn the hard way: realizing that they fight when they’re together too long, hearing them disagree on every tiny detail, feeling uncomfortable sitting in the same room as them. The process of finally accepting this fact was long and drawn out, and my instilled hatred toward my parents’ decision tormented me for the better half of my youth. If I’d had a step-by-step guide to help me understand it from a non-biased perspective, the process of accepting their split would have been unbelievably easier for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t. It was a burden I had to carry to kindergarten conversations and Christmas visitation. It was a slow process for me—understanding—but it can be summed up by these simple steps:
You have to understand the root of the stigma. People had no reason to pity me or think of me differently, but they did. Why? Because we’ve been conditioned to only consider a family valid if it consists of a married mother and father. When it comes to single parents, society draws the line. Its idea of a complete family caused me to hate my own, and to view it as abnormal. People really need to understand that a family does not have to be nuclear to be a family. Understanding that there is more to a family than a mom and dad living under one roof is where I began to view divorce as something that helps a family fix its structure, rather than destroy it. The structure divorce destroys is an institutionalized structure that is simply just not fit for every family.
It was not selfish of my parents to live apart. They didn’t steal anything from me—they gave me the opportunity to enjoy the time I spend around my parents, without toxicity and resentment. You must understand that each family is different, and they won’t all fit the happy, nuclear mold. It’s better to be apart and love each other than have hatred simmering under the same roof.
For those trying to forgive parents: you have to understand what they did for you. They were clearly unhappy, and that was not going to change, no matter how much you try convincing yourself. They would’ve fought and grown bitter, toward each other and you. With time, you’ll feel better and less. Once you get past the shock and rehabilitation, you’ll see the positive effects. Your parents will be happier, and they’ll be able to be in the same room. You’ll experience healthy interactions with them and, in the long run, will interact better with significant others better as well. They spared you by not exposing you to a traumatic, unhappy setting.
You have to understand how the divorcees felt. People don’t divorce because they want to. They divorce because they can’t even stand looking at their spouse. They weren’t happy to sign the papers, especially with institutionalized guilt looming over their heads. They worried about their children and how it would affect them, more than the public thinks.
With time, I began to understand the reality of what our family life was like before the split. I now understand that the negative societal atmosphere surrounding divorce stems from unhealthy and traditional beliefs that confine family to one strict definition. As I came to this realization, after years of bitterness and discontent, I stopped craving an idealized life and could finally see the good that came from the split. Divorce starts a new chapter for those who are unhappy and hurting, and is ultimately selfless despite the greedy stigma surrounding it.
By Mary Dodys