Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Survive My Parents’ Separation?
“After my parents separated, we had to move. We had no car anymore, so Mom had to catch the bus to get around and to drop us off with a baby-sitter. Then we could see changes in the house. Dad was supposed to pay child support, but he often didn’t, and Mom had to make up the difference. Eventually he didn’t pay at all.”—Anne.a
AFTER 14 years, Anne’s parents are still separated but not divorced. If you have gone through the sad experience of watching your parents separate, you may well know just how she feels. Enough weeks, months, or years may have passed for the initial shock to wear off. But sometimes you may wonder how you will manage to go on living this way. There is still no divorce nor a reconciliation; uncertainty still casts its troubling shadow over your life.
Loneliness may prevail as well. After Brad’s parents separated, his mother took on two jobs and went to school to learn a trade. Brad missed her so much. He recalls: “One night I sneaked into the car to go to work with her. But then once I was there, I was a burden. Someone had to take me home.” Indeed, many children of separated parents feel as if the breakup has cost them both parents, not just one. As another youth, Mike, says: “We lost my dad to some other woman, and then we lost my mom to her jobs.”
Loneliness, uncertainty, a changed economic status—if your parents have separated, you need to come to grips with such problems. How can you take a positive approach?
Changing Your Focus
This battle, like most, starts with your own mind and heart. You may tend to dwell on your parents’ separation, worry over it obsessively, and even fall into a cycle of self-pity from which it is very hard to escape. However, you can protect yourself from being overwhelmed by anxiety.
In our previous article in this series, we likened surviving your parents’ separation to weathering a storm in your life.b Interestingly, the Bible tells of how the apostle Peter was once caught in a literal storm at sea. At the height of the storm, he saw Jesus Christ walking unharmed right on the surface of the water! Jesus even invited Peter to walk toward him over the sea. But Peter did not make it far before he started to sink. Why?
Matthew 14:30 says: “But looking at the windstorm, [Peter] got afraid and . . . start[ed] to sink.” What Peter needed was faith, not fear. But when he focused on the storm, with its wind-whipped, crashing waves, he became afraid. He lost his focus on Jesus, the one who could keep him from sinking. The same can hold true for you. The more you dwell on your problems, the more fearsome they will look to you. Dwell instead on solutions.
Meg, whose parents are separated, puts it this way: “Don’t focus too much on the immediate situation. You can’t change it anyway.” Randy echoes the thought: “When you think negatively, you just get in this bog, mulling the same thoughts over and over, like a truck stuck in the mud.” How do you get unstuck?
Reach Out to Others
Meg says: “Talk it out with someone who is really seasoned and mature spiritually, someone who can help you to see things clearly.” That kind of friend can help you to focus your thoughts in a more positive direction. As Proverbs 17:17 says: “Friends always show their love. What are brothers for if not to share trouble?” (Today’s English Version) So as you struggle with your parents’ separation, and especially with the loneliness that follows it, you will probably need to reach out to your friends and depend on them more than you ever have.
A word of caution, though. Not all friends will help you get through this. Some will only make more problems for you. Mike recalls: “After my parents split up, I had an almost unnatural devotion to my friends. We had fun together, but mostly we got into trouble together—like drugs and fighting. For a while I used to think that if I lost my friends, I’d lose everything. That was an illusion, I found out later, because they weren’t really loyal. They turned on me. One of them even pretended to be me when the police caught him vandalizing the school building.”
No, not all friends are real friends. As Proverbs 18:24 says: “There are friends who lead one to ruin, others are closer than a brother.” (The Jerusalem Bible) Fortunately, Mike later found the right kind of friends. He remembers one in particular: “He was like a big brother to me. He studied the Bible with me, and he did other things with me too. He even took me to work with him. And he never made me feel that this was a drudgery for him. To this day I know that affected my life. If I hadn’t met up with him, I don’t know what I’d be right now.”
Where can you find that kind of friend? Jesus promised that the Christian congregation could provide many “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” for those who had none. (Mark 10:30) Thus, Mike found friends at the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
So did Tom. He recalls: “One brother in the congregation took me in as if I were his older son. And an older sister became like a grandmother to us. The congregation always really loved us, and it’s amazing how much that does for you.” So Tom says: “If you don’t have a father, find one in the congregation. In the meantime, salvage the family relationships you do have, and draw close together.” Brothers, sisters, grandparents, and other relatives can all be faithful friends to you.—Proverbs 13:20.
But the greatest friendship you will ever form is the one with your Creator, Jehovah. When parents separate, the promise at James 4:8 is especially comforting: “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you.”
Follow a Spiritual Routine
Going regularly to Christian meetings will help you to do just that—draw close to God, by learning about him. Meetings will also help you find new friends. (Hebrews 10:24, 25) But meetings and other Christian activities can also give your life a structure and a routine. That is especially important if the separation has wreaked havoc with your family routines, filling your days with uncertainty.
True, you may feel a dangerous urge to rebel against all structured routines right now. School in particular may seem burdensome. Mike remembers: “I adopted an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. I started doing badly in school, and I thought, ‘If my father and mother don’t care enough to keep the family together, then I don’t care either.’ Their breakup became my reason for not trying.”
But don’t make the mistake of using the separation as your excuse for neglecting the very things that will help you the most. The book Surviving the Breakup says that for children of divorce “school was useful precisely because it provided structure . . . It was evident that many children were supported by school in this basic way, regardless of the quality of their academic and social functioning within the classroom.”
School may also help you to build qualities and skills and disciplines that can help you throughout your life—even render you more employable. If your family has suffered financially because of the separation, as so many do, you can probably see the advantage of preparing yourself now to get a job that will help you to meet your needs in the future.
Your future, after all, is not out of control. You can survive your parents’ separation. You are equipped to do it. Divorce researchers have observed that many youths survive their parents’ breakup intact. Many even learn from their parents’ mistakes and so in some ways are refined by the experience.c
Your future does not have to be uncertain. It does not have to be lonely. If you reach out to the right kind of friends, stick to a structured spiritual routine, and refuse to dwell obsessively on your problem, your future can be quite certain. Without a doubt, it can be long and happy.—Proverbs 3:1, 2.
a Some of the names have been changed.
b The article “Young People Ask . . . My Parents Are Separating—What Should I Do?” in the August 22, 1990, issue of Awake! discusses some of the pitfalls to avoid, such as giving in to an angry, vengeful spirit.
c The article “Young People Ask . . . Will My Parents’ Divorce Ruin My Life?” in the December 22, 1987, issue of Awake! shows that you are not condemned to repeat your parents’ mistakes.
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If your parents separate, you may need friends more than ever. Where can you find the right kind of friends?