Friday, August 10, 2012

A Child of Divorce?

How many of you have ever had to answer that question with an affirmative?  

I did my whole life.  My parents divorced when I was young so by the time the question was able to be understood the answer was yes.  The same will be true for my kids.  All three of them will at some point be confronted with this question and they will all answer yes. 

What exactly is a child of divorce?  Who came up with the phrase and what does it mean? 

I guess we know what it means but the more nagging question for me is why is the question asked?  How is it relevant?  Do we ask adults and older children if they’re bastards anymore?  No, we assume that some children are born out-of-wedlock.  It’s been unacceptable culturally to point that out for a long time.  We accept it.  We might not like it, but we don’t go around saying: “are you a bastard child?” 

When this question was asked to me while I was growing up I always felt ashamed.  Like something was wrong with me, I had failed before I had begun.  I didn’t know how I failed or how I was responsible?  All I knew was that these adults and authority figures needed to know this about me because somehow my parents' marriage failing reflected on me.  I wasn’t sure how it reflected on me which was why I was so confused by the question as I child.  This was clearly something to be ashamed of.  They don’t ask the kids whose last names match their parents that question, just me and the ones of us whose names are different.  I wondered as a kid if I should change my name to match my mom’s just to avoid the question.  I didn’t so much want my step dad to adopt me and to disown my biological father as much as I just didn’t want people to notice that I was different.  That I had already failed and fallen short and I wasn’t even sure how. 

I just got asked this question rather benignly recently.  It wasn’t difficult for me to answer and I had long since grown accustomed to it.  But then it hit me, MY KIDS, my kids are going to have to answer this question ‘yes.’  Oh my god, and immediately I was a white hot mess of tears.  The pain, I remember that pain.  And suddenly I wanted to shelter them.  I wanted to move to the mountains of Utah and live in a yurt and gather berries and homeschool because God please Forbid anyone ever ask them that question. 

It doesn’t matter.  They have done nothing; I want to scream at the people who haven’t even asked it yet.  I want to throw a mommy sized temper tantrum.  My vengeance and desire to protect them is immense but it’s not going to help.  There’s not a path in this life that avoids pain.  It doesn’t exist.  If I had remained married to their Dad they would have lived with a dad who was never home, a mom who became an angry shell of a person and the pain of marital discord.  By divorcing him, I’m removing those things from our lives.  It’s a wise choice that I have total peace with but that does not mean there will not be pain.  There still will be pain for them.  And there may be shame as well.  The shame of their dad’s infidelity or the fact that one day our last names may not all match or the shame of having a mother that has to work and not stay at home with them when that’s what all their friends’ moms do.  

But that’s not theirs to own and I will help them because I know intimately what that shame is like.  I owned it for too long.  It will be their choice whether or not they hold on to it.  But I can show them the path of letting it go.  Divorce is not their side of the fence. 

Just like it was no reflection on me and my two year old self that my parents’ marriage failed, it is no reflection on them either.  The: are you a child of divorce question is stupid, unnecessary, painful and doesn’t give any important information to the asker.  The relevant question is this: do your parent(s) love you?  Are they involved in your life?  Are your needs met and your feelings and thoughts heard?  Is someone pointing you to Jesus?  Are you valued as a person? 

Because although the design is a two parent household the reality is that one parent households have existed since the beginning of time.  We have a one parent household.  There are four people in my family; however my children have five people in their family.  Jonathan is not my family but he is theirs.  That is the reality.  It may be an unpleasant and distasteful reality to some.  But the path to peace is paved with a lot of naysayers.   

I’m thankful for the reminder that this question exists, I’m thankful for the white hot mess of tears happening when they’re safely sleeping in their beds and I’m thankful for the ability to prepare them for this question before it is ever asked. 

Are you a child of divorce?

“No, I’m Shannon and Jonathan’s child.  I didn’t know divorce was a person?”  "No, but God is my heavenly father." (or something along those lines ;-)

 “A person’s a person no matter how small.”  - Dr. Seuss  We should treat all people with respect regardless of the structure of their household.  

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