Why Did Dad and Mom Split Up?
“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.
THE divorce of one’s parents can seem like the end of the world, a catastrophe that generates enough misery to last forever. It often triggers an onslaught of feelings of shame, anger, anxiety, fear of abandonment, guilt, depression, and profound loss—even a desire for revenge.
If your parents have recently split up, you too might be experiencing such feelings. After all, our Creator meant for you to be raised by both a father and a mother. (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.”
Why Parents Break Up
Often parents have kept 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.” And even when parents do squabble, it may still come as a shock when they actually split up!
In many cases, the split-up occurs because one parent is guilty of sexual misconduct. God does permit the innocent mate to obtain a divorce. (Matthew 19:9) In other cases, “wrath and screaming and abusive speech” have erupted into violence, causing one 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. Rather than work out their problems, some selfishly divorce because they claim they are ‘unhappy’ or ‘no longer in love.’ This is displeasing to God, who “has hated a divorcing.” (Malachi 2:16) Jesus also indicated that some would break up their marriages because their mates became Christians.—Matthew 10:34-36.
Whatever the case, the fact that your parents may have chosen to be silent or to give you only vague answers to your questions regarding the divorce does not mean they do not love you.* Wrapped up in their own hurt, your parents may simply find it hard to talk about the divorce. (Proverbs 24:10) They may also find it awkward and embarrassing to admit to their mutual failures.
What You Can Do
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 they will give you a satisfactory explanation. If not, do not despair. 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?
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.” Your parents’ feelings toward you are unchanged.
The Healing Effects of Time
There is “a time to heal.” (Ecclesiastes 3:3) And just as a literal wound, like a broken bone, can take weeks or even months to heal completely, emotional wounds take time to heal.
Divorce researchers Wallerstein and Kelly 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 a long time, but a lot has to happen before your life can stabilize.
For one thing, the household routine—disrupted by the divorce—must be reorganized. 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 will begin to feel normal again.
However, Solomon gave this warning: “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 the past can blind you to the present. 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 that you now enjoy domestic peace?
‘I Can Get Them Back Together’
Some youths nurture dreams of reuniting their parents, perhaps clinging to such fantasies even after their parents have remarried!
However, denying the divorce changes nothing. And all the tears, pleading, and scheming in the world probably won’t get your folks back together again. So why torment yourself by dwelling on the unlikely? (Proverbs 13:12) 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. This is a big step toward your getting over it.
Coming to Terms With Your Parents
You may rightly be angry with your parents 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.” This may be true. But can you go through life carrying a load of anger and bitterness and not harm yourself?
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. Yes, even parents ‘sin and fall short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3:23) Realizing this can help you come to terms with your parents.
Talk Out Your Feelings
“I’ve never really discussed how I felt about my parents’ divorce,” one young man said when interviewed by us. 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: “Talking it out really helped me.”
You may likewise find it helpful to confide in someone, instead of isolating yourself. Let your parents know just how you feel, what your fears and anxieties are. (Compare Proverbs 23:26.) Mature Christians can also help. Keith, for example, got little or no support from his family, which was torn apart by divorce. Yet he found support elsewhere. Says Keith: “The Christian congregation became my family.”
Above all, you can find a hearing ear with your heavenly Father, the “Hearer of prayer.” (Psalm 65:2) 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
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, instead of allowing yourself to become immobilized by grief, hurt, or anger, get on with your life! Get involved in your schoolwork. Pursue a hobby. Have “plenty to do in the work of the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 15:58.
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.
Researchers 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.”
Questions for Discussion
◻ What are some of the reasons why parents break up?
◻ Why might it be hard for your parents to talk about it? What can you do if they show such a reluctance to talk?
◻ Why is it pointless to dwell on the past or fantasize about getting your parents back together again?
◻ What are some positive things you can do to help yourself get over the divorce?
◻ How can you deal with the anger you might feel toward your parents?
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‘Will the Divorce Ruin My Life?’
In the wake of their parents’ divorce, some youths virtually ruin their lives. Some make rash decisions, such as to quit school. Others vent their frustration and anger by misbehaving—as if to punish their parents for getting the divorce. Recalls Denny: “I was unhappy and depressed after my parents’ divorce. I started having problems in school and failed one year. After that . . . I became the class clown and got into a lot of fights.”
Shocking behavior may very well get the attention of one’s parents. But what is really accomplished, other than adding stress to an already stressful situation? Really, the only one punished by wrongdoing is the wrongdoer. (Galatians 6:7) Try to understand that your parents are also suffering and that their seeming neglect of you is not malicious. Confessed Denny’s mother: “I definitely neglected my kids. After the divorce, I was such a mess myself, I just couldn’t help them.”
The Bible advises at Hebrews 12:13: “Keep making straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be put out of joint.” Even if parental discipline is absent, there is no excuse for misconduct. (James 4:17) Assume responsibility for your actions and exercise self-discipline.—1 Corinthians 9:27.
Avoid, too, making rash decisions, for example, to leave home. “The shrewd one considers his steps.” (Proverbs 14:15) If your parents seem too distracted at this point to lend you their ear, why not talk your decisions over with an older friend?
Still, you may have a number of concerns about your future. Since your parents have failed at marriage, it’s understandable that you might worry about your own prospect of enjoying a successful marriage. Fortunately, marital unhappiness is not something you inherit from your parents—like freckles. You are a unique individual, and how any future marriage of yours turns out will depend, not on your parents’ failings, but on the extent to which you and your mate apply God’s Word.
You may also find yourself worrying about things you formerly took for granted—food, clothing, shelter, money. Parents, however, usually work out some means of supporting their children after a divorce, even if Mom has to take on secular work. Nevertheless, the book Surviving the Breakup realistically warns: “What once supported one family unit must now support two families, forcing a decline in standard of living for every family member.”
It may well be, therefore, that you’ll have to get used to doing without things you used to enjoy, like new clothes. But the Bible reminds us: “We have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Timothy 6:7, 8) Perhaps you can even assist in working out a new family budget. Remember, too, that Jehovah is “a father of fatherless boys.” (Psalm 68:5) You can be sure that he is deeply concerned about your needs.
Jeremiah observed: “Good it is for an able-bodied man that he should carry the yoke during his youth.” (Lamentations 3:27) True, there is little “good” in watching parents split up. But it is possible to turn even this negative experience to your advantage.
Researcher Judith Wallerstein observed: “The emotional and intellectual growth [among children of divorced parents] that was catalyzed by the family crisis was impressive and sometimes moving. The youngsters . . . soberly considered their parents’ experiences and drew thoughtful conclusions for their own futures. They were concerned with finding ways to avoid the mistakes their parents had made.”
No doubt about it, your parents’ breakup is sure to make its mark on your life. But whether that mark is a fading blemish or a festering wound is to a great extent up to you.
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Watching the breakup of your parents’ marriage can be one of the most painful experiences imaginable
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Dwelling on memories of how life used to be may only depress you