I found out in June that my parents were officially divorcing after twenty-seven years of marriage. I wasn’t mad, maybe a little melancholy, but I felt that I was adult enough to see the situation from both sides, and from the eyes of two separate humans with varying wants and needs.
Well, I thought I was adult enough until I made a trip home. They were both in their respective houses; my brother cautioned that Dad’s place (our childhood home) was devoid of all decoration – bare nails sticking out of the wall where Mom had taken artwork and photos. I found this to be a dramatization, yet a not-too-far-off metaphor for the end of a shared life. Nevertheless, it was weird, both places starkly lacking the others’ energy.
My Grandma gave me some good advice – my presence here or there won’t change anything, I just have to do whatever makes me the happiest. It was a lesson that took her over eighty years to learn, and she didn’t want me to wait that long to figure it out. So I left, and took with me five other lessons learned from my parents’ divorce.
1. Everyone responds differently — let them
Death, divorce, traffic on the way to the airport — people respond in the way that comes naturally to them. Initially, my reaction to the divorce was a complete contrast to my brother’s and aunt’s and grandfather’s. Really, my reaction was different than the whole rest of the family’s.
Some thought I was taking it too lightly, like a flippant 24-year-old who just wants to live her life and focus on her priorities. However, I, in turn, judged them harshly for getting too involved in something that really wasn’t ever theirs to begin with.
My mom was quick to caution that everyone responds differently. We each have our own grieving and healing processes and as long as it doesn’t negatively affect others, we should do what is necessary to mourn and recover. Whatever the tragedy, whatever the process — feel it, know it, and move past it, however you can. Let others do the same.
2. Admitting defeat is a lot different than quitting something
No matter what it is in life – a job, a relationship, piano lessons — there will be times when it is stressful and difficult. It’s up to you to put in the effort and time to make it the best it can be, for as long as that can last. If it lasts a lifetime, then we have just the right combination of luck, perseverance, and grit. If it doesn’t, we need to be honest with ourselves and accept defeat. We can’t exhaust all of our energy giving and giving, trying and trying to make something work that simply doesn’t. While it can feel like we’re simply throwing in the towel, we need to rest assured that we gave the situation our all and move on.
3. Change offers the chance for a new perspective
Growing up, about half of my friend group had divorced parents. Some parents had separated early on, before the child even formed memories of a nuclear family. Some parents were going through it in high school, after a tragedy or setback rocked an already shaky marriage.
Sadly, I didn’t allow myself to gain much understanding toward their situations and personal struggles. I was also 14, so cut me some slack here. Some friends partied harder, got into boys sooner, or even just stopped showing up at school — I always unintentionally attributed their parents’ divorce and jumbled family lives as the epicenter of their problems. Looking out from my intact, nuclear family’s streak-free, casement windows, I viewed them as weak or lazy, not realizing how impactful the separation of a family can be.
Now, I see how easily something like this can derail a life, especially a young one. I have greater respect for my friends who did hold it together in the face of this tragedy, and came out with a more sensitive and open perspective toward those who are on a different path.
4. Humans are the most flawed creatures of all
So, we’ve got the survival aspect of life down – what’s next? How about we try finding one person to spend almost all of our time with for the rest of our lives, raising viable offspring, pursuing our own passions, and making it to 6am spin class. Yeah, we’re bound to screw up more than a few times.
But how often do we readily forgive others for their mistakes? We hold people, especially those close to us, to idyllic portrayals of years past, when they were, altogether, a much different person than the one standing before us now. I realized this while looking at my now broken up, yet still relatively positive, family. I remembered each moment together as having that beautiful rose tint and constantly setting sun behind it — like the Princess Bride; we always rode off on white horses.
When, in reality, my parents were always working hard to support us, to raise kids, to make the marriage last. It’s a constant effort and people are bound to mess it up a time or two. So, forgive them. Because chances are, you’ll make some mistakes down the line and will need a good dose of that too.
5. Laughter is the best medicine
An old but true adage. Both of my parents attempt to make light of hard situations. My mom laughs at funerals and in church on a regular basis – never distastefully, but because the woman behind us is singing loud and proud, with a voice that could peel a tomato. Life is just funny, when we choose to look at it that way.
My dad spent the weekend making jokes about why my mom divorced him, and my mom made jokes about her new ‘college’ apartment she just moved into. It was a big bundle of laughs, until it wasn’t. Each joke ended with that awkward laugh, which trailed off into the realization that we were joking to get past the pain and weirdness of the situation. But that’s okay, because eventually the laughs will turn wholly genuine
Laughter helps sooth and remove bitter sentiment. Fake it ’til you make it, because your perception is your reality and if you look at it through the dark twisted humor that life forces us to subscribe to, you’ll be in much better shape.