Since 1970 divorce has affected over a million children each year. According to recent statistics, more than half of all children will experience the divorce of their parents by their eighteenth birthday. Of these, over half will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage. Another 10 percent will go on to witness three or more family breakups, all before age eighteen. These numbers don’t even take into account those who face their parents’ divorce as adults. Today, more than 40 percent of all American adults between ages eighteen and forty are children of divorce. But these statements represent more than sad statistics to us.
Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s are the first divorce generation, Generation Ex. Despite the assuring claims of Cosmo and company — which convinced our parents that our well-being depended more on their happiness than their commitment — society is now beginning to realize what we have known all along: Divorce is not simply a bump in the road for the children affected by it. Can you identify?
- You’re afraid of falling in love but really want to
- You’ve turned into a perfectionist
- You’re afraid that even though someone says, “I love you,” ultimately that person might leave you.
- For you, trust comes in hard-earned degrees.
- You’re not sure where home is, or you aren’t so sure you want to accept the home that society has defined for you.
- You wonder if you will ever have your entire family in the same room without fighting or awkward silence.
- You have holes in your history.
- You aren’t sure what a healthy marriage looks like.
All these are typical effects of divorce on children. Divorce alters our identities. It clouds the lens through which we understand the world. It weakens the foundation of our emotional development. As children, we likely were not able to comprehend the difference between our parents not loving each other and not loving us: Why would a daddy who says he loves me choose not to live with me? If Mommy is the center of my world, why am I not the center of hers?
Many of us stuffed our feelings of betrayal, rejection, fear, anger, and abandonment. In the backs of our minds, we consoled ourselves with the hope that things would get better when we were on our own. However, after we left the nest, our parents’ divorce continued to affect us. As we seek our own romantic relationships, we discover we don’t know how to create what we desire, and the fear that we’ll re-create what we’ve left behind consumes us.
If our parents’ decision to divorce were truly a healthy one because it offered the potential for a happier home, then why do so many of us still struggle decades later with issues of abandonment, trust, commitment, and making our own marriages work?
Divorce is often the defining event of our life, and the implications of our parents’ choice continue to ripple throughout our life.
Why Look Back?
Why is it important to address the issues that arise from our parents’ divorce? Because until we have a firm sense of our own past — both good and bad — and begin to heal from it, we won’t have a solid foundation for building the future we hope to have. Children of divorce are much like adult adoptees struggling with an unknown past. The adoptee’s past is hidden; ours is ignored. The adoptee wrestles with the transition from being unwanted to being chosen. The child of divorce struggles to understand how she can be loved when one or both parents — from her perspective — have abandoned her.
We’ve been told to accept the divorce as part of our past, but until we acknowledge the feelings and effects of it, we will not be able to break free of our past’s power to affect our present and our future. It’s easier to ignore or stuff our feelings than it is to express or experience them. This fear of feeling causes us to build walls. In an ongoing effort to regain stability, we try to control our environment. We make those around us jump through hoops, yet we run away from any hoops presented to us. We expect others to love us unconditionally before we remove the conditions from our love. Often, we’re blind to the mixed messages we send.
Moving Beyond the Legacy of Our Past
While it’s true that we will continue to wrestle with the impact of divorce throughout our life, as Christians we are not alone in our struggle, and we have access to Someone who can offer us wisdom and healing as we seek to change our involuntary inheritance.
It wasn’t until twenty-five years after my mom and dad’s divorce that I had this epiphany: I am choosing to derive my identity from a past event over which I had no control, when God is offering me the opportunity to choose an identity that affirms my future with Him!
Instead of living our life in response to our past, we can choose to go to God for healing and to live our life in anticipation of the future He promises us. Millions of us share the experience of divorce. While the deck may seem stacked against us, we have the ultimate wild card.
As Christians, we have a permanent place in our Abba Father’s family. His love for us is unconditional. His resources are unending, and His faithfulness is unfailing. We have been gifted with unique talents, abilities, and passions. We have been created with a purpose. Our family is as broad as the millions of fellow believers around the world and as specific as the mentors we adopt and the accountability groups we form. Love has been perfectly personified in Jesus Christ. Through His offer of adoption, we are able to discover hope and find home as Abba’s children.
Are you ready to begin the healing process?
Adapted from Generation Ex: Adult Children of Divorce and the Healing of Our Pain
Copyright © 2004 Jen Abbas. Published by Waterbrook Press, Used with Permission.