Trouble dealing with parents' divorce... twelve years after

Originally Published: February 11, 2000 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 20, 2010
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Dear Alice,

I have been going through emotional problems lately. I have been crying a lot and thinking about my mom and dad's divorce and how I want them together. I don't understand why now, after all these years, it is bothering me. It has never bothered me till this past school year and nothing has happened in school either.

I keep thinking about how I will never know how it was to live with both my parents. On Christmas, I kept thinking about how I really only had one true Christmas with both of them together and I don't even remember it. People always say the younger the child is when parents get a divorce, the easier it is on a child, but for some reason, that's not true for me because I missed out on it all! All my friends have at least experienced their parents together, and I haven't and never will. They get along fine so it's not like they fight. I haven't told anyone about this and it is getting to the point I can't keep it to myself and can't stop crying. I don't know what to do anymore. I just don't know why it is bothering me twelve years after they got a divorce and how I can get it to go away. Please help.

—Jenny

Dear Jenny,

Divorce is one of the most difficult transitions a family may go through. There's no "right time" to stop or — in your case — start thinking about how your parents' divorce has affected you. You may know other people whose parents have separated more recently, but it's completely normal that you still feel sad and alone sometimes. Many people struggle to understand their parents' break-up — whether it happened last month, last year, or last decade. It's actually also very common to fantasize about "the perfect family" around the holidays. After all, many people — young and old alike — may feel letdown and lonely during the holidays, due to a variety of family circumstances. The fact that you have begun to recognize your feelings shows that you're willing to do what it takes to start feeling better.

Since you were very young when your parents got divorced, it may have been difficult for you to understand exactly what was going on. Even so, it may have been scary and difficult to go through the changes that followed your parents' split. Back then, you may not have known how to express your worries, confusion, sadness, disappointment, or questions. Perhaps that's why some of it is surfacing now that you're older and more mature and have new vocabulary to talk about what you're experiencing. You mentioned that nothing has happened in school that you think might be the cause of your new thoughts and feelings. However, could any of these situations be true for you?:

  • Is either one of your parents dating someone new or gotten engaged/remarried? Do you worry that you won't spend as much time with your parents anymore because of the new partner?
  • Have your friends made comments or asked questions about your parents, their relationship, or your family in general?
  • You mentioned that your parents don't fight. Are you confused about why they broke up in the first place? It's possible that your parents don't argue when they're around you, or that they express their disagreement without "fighting." Also, couples break up for lots of different reasons; the reasons for your parent's divorce may not be obvious to you, and may not be to them, either.
  • Has your parents' divorce affected your family financially? Are you worried about money for special events, things you need, or college?
  • Many children of divorced parents divide their time between each parent's home, so it may seem as though you don't have enough time with either of them. Do your parents set aside time to talk and hang out with you? Has there been a change in your, or their, daily routines?
  • Now that you're older, you may be wondering about how to make your own romantic relationships work and/or how to trust people. Maybe you worry that you'll make the same "mistakes" as your parents. Lots of people worry about the very same things — even into their adulthood. Being conscious of your feelings, and expressing them, as you seem to be now, helps to make relationships successful.

It may be helpful to re-focus your attention to the positive aspects of your family, and your parents. For example, what do you like about your family? What do you enjoy doing together? Do you have siblings? Do you spend time with other relatives, such as grandparents, cousins, or godparents?

It may also be helpful to share your feelings with someone you trust, i.e., friend, school counselor, member of the clergy, or health care provider. Even so, have you considered talking to your parents about how you've been feeling? After all, even though your parents don't live together anymore, it doesn't mean that you can't turn to them when you need help. It may be difficult for parents to talk with their kids about their divorce, but by talking with your mom and dad about the way you've been feeling, you'll have the chance to share something about yourself with them, and maybe even learn a thing or two about them, as well.

If you are a student at Columbia and would like to speak with a counselor/psychologist about this, you can make an appointment with a counseling professional from Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) by calling x4-2878. Also keep in mind that CPS offers Groups and Workshops for which you can sign up by calling x4-2878. Your local YWCA/YMCA may also have groups where you can share your feelings with other people who have gone through similar situations. You may also want to check out Rainbows, an international organization that provides services to families experiencing sadness and grief due to various transitions, including divorce.

Be proud of yourself for taking the first steps to better understand your feelings about your parents' divorce!

Alice

September 25, 2006

21075

Dear Jenny from Idaho,

My own parents split when I was 8 and it affected me quite badly. I was convinced that everyone who was in a relationship was going to become bored and separate. It...

Dear Jenny from Idaho,

My own parents split when I was 8 and it affected me quite badly. I was convinced that everyone who was in a relationship was going to become bored and separate. It made me have a very bad view on all relationships. However, I came out of that stage eventually. I was 14 at the time, too.

I think it's just a natural part of growing up. It may help to ask questions of your parents, such as the reasons for their splitting up. The simple fact of the matter is that life is full of choices and sometimes people just choose not to be together. The most important thing is that they loved each other once, and they love you because of that meeting.

My feelings go out to you about this. You will feel better about things eventually, but DON'T keep it bottled up if it still bothers you.

Anyways, bye for now.

*hugs* *smile*

— Chris

February 25, 2000

20344
Dear Alice, In response to this week's letter about divorce from "Jenny from Idaho": My parents got divorced when I was about two. I am twenty-five now, and would like to suggest a couple of things...
Dear Alice, In response to this week's letter about divorce from "Jenny from Idaho": My parents got divorced when I was about two. I am twenty-five now, and would like to suggest a couple of things to Jenny: I've had a lot of therapy to help me cope with all the pain my parents' divorce and subsequent related family legal battles caused me as a child -- and it's helped immensely. It sounds to me like you're depressed. I don't mean to imply that it's not about your parents' divorce, but it may be deeper than that. It's been suggested to me by some doctors I've seen that some think that early childhood traumas like separation, when they happen while your brain is still rapidly developing chemically, cause a higher incidence of depression and anxiety later in some people. (Alice?) I've never looked into any medical evidence of this (if there is any), but I've found that my chronic anxiety and depression (I've suffered from them since I was about three) have been (in the last few years) helped a whole lot by medications and therapy. You may wish to look into these options. Also, I had a doctor a few years ago who suggested to me that I go on a hike with both of my parents at the same time. It helped immensely -- the three of us began having meals together on my birthday and some holidays. This may not be possible for you -- at least not yet. Your parents have to get along at least a little, and/or be willing to put their differences aside to help you (a good therapist can help you tell your parents you'd like to try this). The feeling of being with both of my parents at once in a peaceful, fun, happy setting just a few times a year has stayed with me -- made my heart feel more whole again. I sincerely hope that things work out for you, whatever you do. Please believe that things do get better with time -- they do! -- Helen in New Hampshire