Young People Ask . . .
Why Did Mom and Dad Split Up?
“Dad had left us before,” says Denny. “But he always came back.” This time, however, was different. Recalls Maurice, Denny’s younger brother: “One day I was at my baby-sitter’s house, from which I could see our backyard. I saw Dad trying to break into our house. I realized then that he wasn’t living with us anymore. It turned out that Mom had changed the locks.”
For Annette, the breakup of her parents had no such note of finality. “My folks were always splitting up—ever since I was eight,” she recalls. “But they never stayed apart for long. After a couple of months, Mom would call Dad and say, ‘OK, I forgive you,’ and they’d get back together. But Dad is an alcoholic. He would just totally wreck Mom’s world and then come back, and she’d forgive him. I resented her doing that.”
DIVORCE. Separation. Breakups. Over a million youths a year in the United States alone witness the tragic breakup of their parents’ marriage.
Divorce hurts. It often triggers an onslaught of shame, anger, anxieties, fears of abandonment, guilt, depression, feelings of profound loss—even a desire for revenge. The above youths expressed it this way:
“I was angry. I was glad that it was finally peaceful at home, but I was never glad Dad was gone. I didn’t think it was right for Dad to leave!”—Maurice.
“I was sort of hurt and embarrassed. We had come into the neighborhood as a family, and now we were broken up. When people would ask, ‘Where’s your Dad?’ I would give some excuse, but I would never say my folks were separated.”—Denny.
“I felt rejected and guilty. Mom and I always had a close relationship, which Dad resented. I wondered if they might have got along better if it weren’t for me.”—Annette.
How Divorce Affects You
If your parents have recently obtained a divorce or a separation, you too might feel confused and angry. After all, our loving Creator meant for you to be raised by both a mother and a father who love you. (Ephesians 6:1-3) Yet, now you have been deprived of the daily presence of a parent you love. “I really looked up to my father and wanted to be with him,” laments Paul, whose folks split up when he was seven. “But Mom got custody of us.”
Being raised by just one parent—usually the mother—often means that you are also suffering economic deprivations. This was true of “fatherless” children even in Bible times. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) Keith, for example, recalls the hardships following the breakups of his mother’s two marriages:
“Dad took off when I was five years old. It was a nightmare. Life was so unstable; we moved every six months. Mom had no education, no job, nothing. We moved from apartment to apartment, often getting thrown out because she couldn’t pay the rent.
“Then Mom married a super nice guy. I really liked him. For once in my life, we had some stability and weren’t moving around all the time. We lived in a house, not an apartment, with a yard and a dog! But soon they started fighting, and Mom finally said she wanted to leave. I jumped into the fight, screaming that I wanted to stay! It was to no avail, however. We moved in with an aunt.”
Considering such hardships—not to mention being forced to choose between two people you love or being torn away from friends—you may bitterly resent your parents’ divorce. The fact that you know of other families that have been through the same thing is of little comfort. ‘Why did this happen to my folks?’ you wonder.
Why Parents Break Up
True, your parents may occasionally have squabbled in front of you. They might have become violent. Even at that, you may never have dreamed they would split up! Some parents manage to keep their problems well hidden. “I don’t remember my folks fighting,” says Lynn, whose parents divorced when she was a child. “I thought they got along.” Indeed, divorce researchers Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan Kelly found “that fully one-third of the children [of divorced parents] had only a brief awareness of their parent’s unhappiness.”
Although you beg your parents for an explanation, you may receive only vague or evasive generalities. Wallerstein and Kelly discovered that “four-fifths of the youngest children [of divorced parents] studied were not provided with either an adequate explanation or assurance of continued care. In effect, they awoke one morning to find one parent gone.”
Understandably, then, a divorce under any circumstances can be a terrible blow. Even though the Bible counsels that “a wife should not depart from her husband” and “a husband should not leave his wife,” marital breakups have become a painful fact of modern life. (1 Corinthians 7:10, 11) The reasons?
Sad to say, sometimes a parent is guilty of sexual misconduct. And when this occurs, God permits the innocent parent to obtain a divorce. (Matthew 19:9) In other cases, the “wrath and screaming and abusive speech” erupt into violence, causing a parent to fear for his or her physical well-being and that of the children.—Ephesians 4:31.
Some divorces, admittedly, are obtained on flimsy grounds, especially when couples are not willing to follow Bible principles. For example, rather than working out their problems, some selfishly divorce because they claim they are ‘unhappy,’ ‘unfulfilled,’ or ‘no longer in love.’ Needless to say, this is displeasing to the God who “has hated a divorcing.” (Malachi 2:16) Jesus further indicated that some would break up their marriages because their mates became Christians.—Matthew 10:34-36.
Why Telling You Is Hard
Why your parents have broken up, though, may be a mystery to you. Nevertheless, their silence or vague answers do not mean they do not love you. Divorce stuns parents. Researcher Wallerstein says it takes the average woman from “3 to 3 1/2 years” to regain her balance after a divorce. And while men seem to recover more quickly, writer Frank Ferrara (himself divorced) confesses: ‘It’s a rare man who doesn’t feel guilt, loneliness, anger, depression, sense of failure, abandonment.’ Wrapped up in their own hurt, your parents may find it hard to talk about the divorce. As the Bible says: “Have you shown yourself discouraged in the day of distress? Your power will be scanty.”—Proverbs 24:10.
Furthermore, it usually takes two to ‘tear down’ a household, and your parents may find it awkward and embarrassing to admit to their failures. (Compare Proverbs 14:1.) At times even a parent whose mate has committed adultery is reluctant to reveal the indiscretion of his or her mate.
What You Can Do
Though being in the dark is frustrating, it does you little good to respond with anger and rage. Instead, use thinking ability and discernment to safeguard yourself from lasting emotional harm. (Proverbs 2:11) Try to discern the right time to discuss calmly your concerns with your parents. (Proverbs 25:11) Let them know how saddened and confused you are over the divorce.
Perhaps your parents will give you a satisfactory explanation. If not, do not despair. Ask yourself, Is it really wrong for my parents to withhold information from me? Did not Jesus withhold information that he felt his disciples were not ready to handle? (John 16:12) And do not your parents have a right to privacy? Besides, if a parent has obtained a divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality, is not he or she exercising a Scriptural right?
Discern, too, the emotional state of your parents. As distressing—even catastrophic—as the divorce may seem to you, can you not see that it is equally distressing to your parents? Would it be realistic to expect lengthy explanations from them at this time?
Finally, appreciate that the divorce, whatever the reason for it, is a dispute between them—not with you! In their study of 60 divorced families, Wallerstein and Kelly found that couples blamed each other, their employers, family members, and friends for the divorce. But, say the researchers: “No one, interestingly enough, blamed the children.” So if you must live for a while without knowing why, take comfort in knowing that the divorce is not your fault. And that despite their problems with each other, your parents’ feelings toward you are unchanged.
No, this will not erase the pain of your parents’ divorce. But endeavoring to have some understanding of what has taken place between them can be the first step in putting your own life back on track.
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Watching the breakup of your parents’ marriage is one of the most painful experiences imaginable