We've asked people from divorced and separated families to answer this question: "What advice would you give to someone whose parents just separated or divorced?" Below are some of their answers.
Find someone to talk to, someone who shares the same beliefs as you. Many of my counselors didn't understand why I was so angry with my dad for leaving and filing for divorce -- they didn't understand the Catholic teaching of it. Many counselors didn't understand that there was a high-functioning alcohol addiction hidden in our family communication that still affects me to this day. It wasn't until I found someone that understood and respected my beliefs, realized that alcoholism and its communication patterns were present, and that I built up trust in them that I could start to heal.
Anonymous woman, 54
Find someone to talk to, who has gone through it as well. Someone you can trust. Your parents will tell you this is not your fault, and it isn't. When you think you can't be loved, because you are the combination of two people who can't stand each other, know that it was God who created you. They were only the physical vessels in His plan, and their sin does not define God's love for you. His love is real and will never leave you nor forsake you. Unite your loneliness with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and cling to the Cross! Know you are loved deeply by your Creator, the Creator of the Universe, as best you can. It is the only true, real kind of love that is understandable.
Anonymous woman, 26
Develop [your] relationship with God. That was one thing that helped get me through my parents' divorce, and I believe that a large part of the faith I have in my life today is because of that foundation of forming a friendship and trust in God at a time when I was young and vulnerable. I turned to a lot of things to distract myself from my situation during my adolescence (school, music, writing, etc.) but one of the things I turned to was God and my Catholic faith, and I believe that without that early experience of relying upon God when I needed Him most, I might not be the religious person I am today.
I would also tell them to stay close to their siblings, if they have siblings. I do not have siblings, so I navigated the pain and confusion of my parents' divorce completely alone. I wish that weren't the case. I wish I'd had even just one sibling to go through it with, because we could have helped each other. I'd imagine that if I had a brother or sister, we would be so close as adults because of having gotten through that difficult time together.
Finally, I would tell them to try to enjoy their childhood and adolescence even though that may not always be easy. I spent a lot of my time as a teenager complaining because I thought that if I showed my parents how miserable I was, they would fix the situation. What I learned is that when you make yourself miserable, you only hurt yourself and you waste your own time. If I could go back I would probably try to enjoy things a little more, even if they were things I didn't want to do, because if I had allowed myself to be fully present during that time, I might have surprised myself by having meaningful experiences that I would be thankful for today.
Anonymous man, 25
Don't let people tell you to be grateful that you have two sets of Christmas presents or that it's 'normal'. Don't listen to the lies. Allow yourself to be sad because you need healing. Reject the culture around divorce. Lies everywhere we look. Finally, don't blame yourself even though that's the easy thing to do.
Anonymous woman, 21
It is so hard to give advice for this situation. I guess I would start first with this: God loves you. I know it sounds cheesy and unhelpful, but it’s true. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. Your parents might not seem to care about you while they wage war against each other; God cares. Maybe one of your parents is leaving you; God will never leave you. Draw close to Him. Tell Him how you feel. If you can’t trust anyone else, trust Him. I love the song “Stars” by Skillet because it talks about everything God created, how He holds the stars in place, how He tells the oceans how to form, and how despite all of these majestic things He created, He also holds and knows your heart and calls you by name. You are just as majestic as the heavens and the seas to Him.
Second: it’s not your fault. Maybe your parents told you it’s your fault, so you blame yourself. Maybe they didn’t, but you think that if you just hadn’t acted out that one time (or all those times), or if you had done what your mom or dad told you to do the first time, or if you had done your chores, or if you had been a perfect son/daughter, then your parents wouldn’t have split. It doesn’t matter. Your parents made a vow to each other and to God, and they were to stay true to those vows, no matter what happened. Nothing you have done can change that.
Third: reach out to someone. Maybe you are comfortable talking to someone you know well, or maybe you are afraid of what a friend might think and you would rather talk to someone you don’t know well. Maybe you want to talk to a counselor. Whoever it is, just PLEASE reach out. The thoughts and feelings that stem from your parents’ marriage dissolving are powerful, overwhelming, and too much to keep locked in your own head. I know it hurts. I know you don’t want to talk about it. But you will most likely find that talking will help. It helps even more to talk to someone who experienced divorce and/or separation as a kid themselves.
Fourth: it’s ok to not be ok. I think people try to console children of divorce/separation with comments like “at least there isn’t abuse”, “at least you know your parents love you”, “there won’t be as much fighting now”, or “it will get better”. Even worse, you might have been told that you need to get over it, that it has been long enough that you should be over it, or that your parents weren’t happy married and so the destruction of their marriage was necessary since everyone deserves to be happy. When I found out my mom was cheating on my dad, two people told me “I know you are upset, but your mom is cheating on your dad, not on you”. Though well-intentioned, that comment did not help at all. When a loved one passes away, it is expected for you to mourn. Why shouldn’t it be the same when you are watching your family die? Your world is being shaken. You are the physical manifestation of your parents’ vocation and love for one another. It is understandable that you feel upset, broken, and just not ok.
Fifth and lastly: try to be gentle with your parents. I know they are the source of your pain. I know they are difficult. I know they try to make you choose sides, and then get upset when/if you do. I know they act more like a child than you. I know that the parent-child role is reversed and you feel like it is your job to be the parent to your squabbling, toddler-like parents. My grandmother called me one day and asked me to physically check on my mother, or to have my dad do it, as she was worried my mother was a risk to herself. My dad thought it wasn’t serious, so I had to drive over to my parents’ place (as I mentioned previously, they were and are separated, but living in the same house). She was fine and very condescending about my concern for her. It is hard in these moments to gentle, kind, and merciful to our parents when we really just want to throw things and scream. But we are called to honor our parents (when they are acting reasonable) and to love and forgive always.
Anonymous woman, 22
Here’s the very first thing you need to know: It’s NOT your fault, no matter how many times your tell yourself it is, it’s not! Satan, the Father of Lies, will work as hard as he can to make you believe that it is.
Secondly, YOU are loved, you are SO loved, it is unbelievable how loved you are! There’s gonna be people that tell you things like “I’m sorry” or “I understand.” Honestly, that was the thing I hated the most because they actually don’t unless their own parents got divorced.
I would say just find a community, like this one to talk about it. It is such a release to just get all of your feelings out. I wrote letters and burned them as well and that helped, but I think the thing that helped the most was spending time with the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration as much as I could. I would go everyday between the time I got dropped off for school and the time that the bus came since my bus stop was at my siblings school/church. It gave me such healing because I could rest in the Arms of a Father who would never leave me. I started praying a daily Rosary and also rested in the Heart of my Heavenly Mother. It helped so much to know that I was more than my pain, more than my cross, more than my sin because I was His daughter! Know that you are infinitely loved by our father in Heaven!
Develop your relationship with Jesus and allow yourself to experience all the feelings that come with the situation.
Additionally, I would encourage you to set boundaries with your parents. I often found myself in the middle of my parent's arguments growing up which caused a great deal of confusion and harm to me. When I finally told my parents I was not going to participate or talk poorly about the other parent I found a lot of freedom and was able to move on the way I needed to.
Seek counseling and spiritual direction.
Do not allow your parents’ divorce cloud your view of marriage and family.
Share your story honestly. When I finally started sharing my story with others I realized I was not alone and that my story was not shameful or my fault. That is when I started to receive the most healing.
Take care of yourself. You have the freedom to change your situation. I am in the process of trying to change mine by moving out of the state where my parents reside. I have realized that I am not responsible for my parents and that it is not my duty to keep the family together.
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