Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Get Over My Parents’ Divorce?
“I remember when my dad left us. We really didn’t know what was going on. Mom had to go to work and left us alone all the time. Sometimes we’d just sit by the window and worry whether she had left us too. . . . ”—A girl from a divorced family.
DIVORCE seems like the end of the world, a catastrophe that can generate enough misery to last forever. Nevertheless, if your family is in the throes of divorce, take heart. You can recover.
This does not mean things will ever be the way they used to be. Divorce, sad to say, is usually quite final. However, the embarrassment, the feelings of rage and betrayal, the fear that your parents no longer love you—these destructive emotions can be put to rest and your life put back on track. As the Bible says, there is “a time to heal.”—Ecclesiastes 3:3.
The Healing Effects of Time
Healing, though, takes time. After all, a literal wound, such as a broken bone, can take weeks or even months to heal completely. Should you not expect the same when it comes to emotional wounds? Just how much time, though, will it take before you begin to feel reasonably normal again?
Researchers Wallerstein and Kelly, who studied children of divorced families, have found that within just a couple of years after a divorce “the widespread fears, the grief, the shocked disbelief . . . faded or disappeared altogether.” Some experts feel that the worst of a divorce is over within just three years. This may seem like an eternity, but a lot has to happen before your life can stabilize.
For one thing, your family’s household routine—disrupted by the divorce—must be reorganized. It may be months, for example, before meals and laundry are cared for as efficiently as they used to be, especially if your mother has taken on secular work to pay the bills. Time will also pass before your parents are back on their feet emotionally. Only then may they finally be able to give you needed support.
As your life regains some semblance of regularity, you begin to feel normal again. The passage of time is one of the best medicines for healing the wounds of a divorce. Still, there is more that you can do besides letting time pass.
Avoid Dwelling in the Past
A 12-year-old named Joseph says: “Before the divorce, it was a noisy house. We went to ballgames, built models together, watched TV. Now it’s quiet, boring, nothing to do, no ballgames to go to.” A surefire way to prolong the agony of a divorce is to dwell upon the past. Solomon warned: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’ for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Dwelling on memories of how life used to be accomplishes little more than to get you more depressed.
Dwelling in the past can also blind you to the present. For example, what was your family situation like before the divorce? “There were always a lot of fights—screaming and name-calling,” admits Annette. Could it be, then, that you now enjoy something that formerly was missing from your family—peace and tranquillity?
‘I Can Get Them Back Together’
The book Stress, Coping, and Development in Children reported: “A surprisingly large number of older children also had trouble acknowledging the reality of the divorce, and their behavior reflected their difficulty.” Some nurture dreams of getting their parents back together again, perhaps clinging to such fantasies even after their parents have remarried!
However, denying the divorce changes nothing. And all the tears, pleadings, and schemings in the world probably won’t get your folks back together again. So why torment yourself by dwelling on impossible expectations? “Expectation postponed is making the heart sick,” says the Bible. (Proverbs 13:12) Not only that, it can interfere with your doing worthwhile things with your life. Solomon said that there is “a time to give up as lost.” (Ecclesiastes 3:6) So accept both the reality and the permanence of the divorce—a big step toward your getting over it.
Coming to Terms With Your Parents
This may be one of the toughest tasks of your life. You may rightly be angry with them for disrupting your life. As one young man bitterly put it: “My parents were selfish. They didn’t really think about us and how what they did would affect us. They just went ahead and made their plans.” Said another youth: “Dad brought two lives into the world and doesn’t care about them as much as he does his new car.” This may all be true. But can you go through life carrying a load of anger and bitterness and not harm yourself? Says divorce researcher Judith Wallerstein: “Such anger not only alienated the child from the parent, but often led the child . . . into mischievous . . . behaviors aimed at harassing and punishing the parent they accused of causing the divorce.”
The Bible counsels: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath . . . be taken away from you . . . But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another.” (Ephesians 4:31, 32) How can you forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply? Try to view your parents objectively—as fallible, imperfect humans, capable of all manner of shortcomings. Yes, even parents ‘sin and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23) Realizing this helps you come to terms with your parents. Though still hurt over his parents’ divorce, one young man says of them: “In spite of everything, I’ve always thought they were nice people. I just feel they were bad at picking marriage mates.”
Cool objectivity about your parents will also help you see their marital failure, not as a personal affront or as a rejection of you, but as a problem between themselves.
Talk Out Your Feelings
“I’ve never really discussed how I felt about my parents’ divorce,” one young man said when interviewed by Awake! Though initially impassive, the youth became increasingly emotional—even tearful—as he spoke about his parents’ divorce. Feelings that had long been buried were unearthed. Surprised at this, he confessed: “It really helped me to talk.”
You may likewise find it helpful to confide in someone, rather than isolating yourself. Let your parents know just how you feel, what your fears and anxieties are. (Compare Proverbs 23:26.) Research shows that children who successfully recover from divorce have “the capacity to reach out to the world around them, to step-parents, teachers, friends, parents of friends, and grandparents.” Mature Christians can also help. Keith, for example, got little or no support from his family, which was torn apart by divorce. Yet he says, “The Christian congregation became my family.”
Above all, find a hearing ear with your heavenly Father, the “Hearer of prayer.” (Psalm 65:2) “Before him pour out your heart.” (Psalm 62:8) A youth named Paul recalls what helped him get over his parents’ divorce: “I prayed all the time and always felt that Jehovah was a real person.”
Getting On With Your Life
Granted, after a divorce, things may never be the same. This does not mean, though, that your life cannot be a fruitful and happy one. The Bible advises, “Do not loiter at your business.” (Romans 12:11) Yes, rather than allowing yourself to become immobilized by grief, hurt, or anger, get on with your life! Get involved with your schoolwork. Pursue a hobby. Have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
Getting over a divorce is not easy. It will take work, determination, and the passing of time. But eventually, the breakup of your parents’ marriage will no longer be the dominant thing in your life.
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Dwelling on memories of how life used to be may only depress you