Adult children of divorce
When my dad left my mum for another woman he suggested they didn’t inform my two brothers and me. Why? Because we were adults so it wouldn’t concern us.
Dad figured that because the three of us were now independent adults, small matters like breaking up our family, airing the dirty laundry, selling the family home and fighting over who kept the baby photos were a private matter between him and mum.
The idea that adult children are not affected by their parents’ divorce is not a special brand of crazy reserved for my dad. In fact, when my brother told his friends about our parents’ split — such was their lack of concern and understanding — they laughed.
And, in a way, it was funny. If our parents managed to stay unhappily married for over three decades why bother to change things now?
The truth is, despite my devastation — and I really was devastated — I didn't feel entitled to grieve publicly for my parents'divorce. Unlike when children are young, people don’t concern themselves with the emotional, physical and financial toll of divorce on adult offspring. I felt silly being so upset, because it wasn't about me.
At the same time, I kept being drawn into the unfolding drama. Rather than being shielded from much of the conflict, adult children are often conscripted to the frontlines of their parents’ war.
The first battle is over loyalty. You must pick a side. Even if you consciously decide not to take sides, your inaction may still be interpreted as a breach of loyalty. I found this out the hard way.
After mum learned that I had visited my dad she felt betrayed and, without my absolute loyalty, believed she had no reason left to live. She overdosed on sleeping pills and then constructed a noose out of telephone cord and tried to hang herself in the apartment I’d just bought.
Fortunately she didn’t succeed but the image of my mum swinging from a noose in my home is seared into my mind.
And my dad’s indifference for my mum and for his children is burned into my heart. In the heat of the moment, while we were waiting for the crisis assessment team to arrive, my brother phoned dad. We were looking for support and guidance but all dad could offer was bitterness. ‘Well now you know what I’ve had to put up with all these years,’ he said. ‘It’s your turn now.’
The second battlefront adult children are dragged into is not necessarily as dramatic, but just as putrid: the role of confidante. When people split they need to talk. A lot. The one who leaves needs to justify the decision and the one who is left needs to mull over why they were left and convince themselves — and everybody else — that they did not deserve it.
The moment the door closed behind my father, the boundaries of appropriate conversation between parent and child collapsed. Both parents felt compelled to run down the other with intimate details about their relationship, sex life, and past transgressions.
There are some things you never want to discuss with your parents.
I expected the role reversal of parent and child to come much later in life, when mum and dad were old or dying. Divorce has a way of accelerating this process.
I spent my time either worrying about dad night clubbing and reliving his youth, or helping mum manage the smallest details, like writing a shopping list or feeding herself.
And while I was sorting out my parents’ assets and playing Florence Nightingale to my mother, nobody even realised, let alone acknowledged, that I might be grieving too.
Watching the family home and assets being packed up and fought over shatters your world, no matter how old you are. It was as if my safety net in life had gone. There was no safe refuge, physically or emotionally, that I could run to if I needed it. My parents we so engrossed in their own pain and anger they no longer had any concern for me, other than as a pawn in their own drama.
No matter what age you are, and what you have going on in your life, when your mum tells you ‘I wasted 32 years of my life,’ and your dad says, ‘I should never have married that woman,’ you can’t help but reevaluate your memories of your childhood and question if any of it was real.
With the ever-increasing numbers of grey divorce, more adult children will be forced to wade through the debris of their broken families. And for many, their hurt and loss will be just as intense as if they were a child.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com