Tell Ruth the Truth

This is a moderated blog is a project of the Ruth Institute. Have a story to share? We're listening.


Jumping Ship After Raising the Kids

My parents divorced after 29 years of marriage. Their children, including myself, were all over the age of 18. My mother said that she waited until we were all out of the house to leave, because we would not be affected so much. She was wrong. Many of our extended family members said, "If that is what makes her happy, she deserves to go."

The problems were multi-layered. Since this is not a forum for how to save marriage, but rather for discussing the aftermath of divorce, I won't hash out the variables that lead to divorce. Suffice it to say that there was grave sin on my father's part, and when my parents sought help from the Catholic Church, they were turned away due to lack of resources. "I am not a marriage counselor," the pastor told them. The church lacked the resources to help. My parents had no tools in their toolboxes. We lived in a small town. Eventually, in the void of a path to healing, my parents separated and then divorced.

The problems had just started, though. Neither of them found happiness. Rather, they persisted in their own pain and coping techniques, both became alcoholics. My mother remarried. Her new husband was an alcoholic as well. See, nobody was really happy. My si longs and I never really had a home base, and neither did our children. Divorce shatters a legacy and it remains shattered. Kids try to start the legacy over, but it is impossible.

I have now been married almost 29 years. I understand the temptation to leave. My children never had the love of grandparents from my parents. Rather, they watched adults try to avoid each other at all family events. They watched awkward interactions between 2nd marriages and ex's. It is ugly.

My parents desperately needed healing; not further wounding. I wish the Catholic Church had had a hand to stabilize them when they asked. However, as a practicing Catholic today, I don't think the church has figured it out yet.


my parents divorced when i was 39

by Stephanie (Canada)

They had been married so long! They had three children and at that time, 21 grandchildren. It had been hard between them forever, but seemed to get worse every year. My mom mocked me for being distressed past six weeks - she said "You knew this was coming". Well, yes and no. I know they both complained nonstop, but it had been four decades of marriage. And they both claim to be Christian. And so many little grandchildren had prayed two years before, and they had stepped back from the precipice.

What i find bizarre is that so many Christians denounce gay marriage, but still will divorce. If gay people are not Christian, why should we care if they contravene our religious laws? But when Christian people divorce, they are destroying something that God says symbolizes His union with the church. They know better. They could have chosen to work it out, to get help, to go see a counsellor. Now, Christmas is almost here and i used to love it - it was a time to focus on my own little brood. Now it's been destroyed and i dread it. The divorce destroyed my bond with all my family members - i feel like there is no joy in any of those relationships now - it's all been tainted. There's only obligation. It's just as soul sucking at listening to them bicker and fight in front of their grandchildren, and it will never end.


Lost Identity

The earliest memory I have of my natural family is when I was two or three years old. I remember lying on my father's shirtless back while he did pushups. After he finished his exercises, my mother used tweezers to pluck stray hairs out of his back. It is a personal memory, one of many seemingly mundane details that make up a family's life together. What happens, then, when that family is broken apart? That which is personal, the family's very identity, is lost.

My early memories of my family are what I hold on to. They are what preserve my family of origin in my mind, and they are the stories I tell my children. Early on, I was given the normal amount of attention that a child would receive. I remember having family mealtime, watching shows with my mom, and bike riding with my dad. I remember being given instructions that kids normally receive, such as, "Take your elbows off the table." I cherish these thoughts.

One not-so-normal memory is of my mom telling my dad through clenched teeth that she hated him. We were in a restaurant. I recall how she looked when she said it, and how terrified I felt. I was three or four at the time.

When I was in first grade, everything started falling apart. My mother starting drinking in excess on a daily basis. I learned to push furniture against my bedroom door to ensure that she wouldn't bring their arguments into my room. At age six, a tempest raged around me, and I was on my own to figure out how to finish growing up. My dad once took me on his lap and tried to explain to me that he and mom loved me, and that it wasn't my fault that all of this was happening. I began to feel comfort in the midst of my confusion, until I looked up and saw my mom holding a pistol, ready to bring it smashing down over his head. I screamed, and the usual arguing ensued.

At night I tried to go to sleep and shut out the sounds of arguing, my neck aching with the stress of trying to cope with school, friends, and growing up while my family falling apart. Their arguments always seemed to end with my dad leaving. Once, I recall throwing myself on the hood of his car, begging him not to go. As they argued about whose fault it was that I was upset, he peeled me off the hood of the car, then left.

After my mom's first stay in a treatment facility, she became pregnant. As an only child, I was naturally thrilled. I remember my Dad bringing her flowers, going to church as a family, and no arguing during the time she was pregnant. Perhaps the nightmare was over. I continued to try to be good, and hoped that would help things go well with my mom and dad. When my sister was a month old, I knew she was drinking. The arguing started again, but this time my ten year-old self felt responsible for my sister. My stomach ached as I walked home from school, wondering what I would find. My mom went away to treatment again, this time for many months. My sister and I went to stay with our grandparents, since Dad was busy with work.

While she was gone, I keenly felt the need for my mother. I tried to ask my dad questions I had about my appearance, but he couldn't give me what I needed. Again, I was on my own. When my mom returned, things quickly returned to the old normal. One night after my dad left I found my sobbing mom lying on the floor. What I suspected was true--he was gone for good. The excruciating process of divorcing due to "irreconcilable differences" had begun. I remember one trip to the lawyer, during which the discussion regarding who would take what centered around record albums. I felt so sad, as everything that was a part of my life was divided up. I found out that I would live with my mom (which terrified me). My dad, the stability of my life, would be available for visits. However, after he left, I didn't see him for an entire year.

An identity crisis ensued. I decided that I did not want to do anything that would keep me from being part of the popular crowd at school. I quit taking advanced academic classes; I quit my music lessons. I started to smoke occasionally, and later, to drink with my friends. Being good never got me anywhere, so what was the point? My dad was gone and my mom wouldn't notice my bad behavior. If she did, her guilt over her alcoholism would cause her to overlook it.

When my dad began contacting me again I was relieved, but it felt strange. I was not a little girl anymore. We did fun activities together occasionally, but when I came home my mom would get angry at me. We began to fight regularly, and I continued to care for my sister when I was home.

Then, another woman came into my dad's life. We three began to do activities together. I liked her but I felt like I had lost part of my dad. He used to take me bike riding, fishing, and sledding. He and I have never done anything alone together since. That was a hard adjustment for me.

I went to live with my dad and step-mom just before my high school years began. My sister stayed behind with my mom. I was so relieved to be out of the craziness of living in an alcoholic household, and expected things to be fine. However, I was not fine. I suddenly felt like a fish out of water. I didn't feel like I belonged in this new family. The family rules and ways of doing things seemed like a foreign language. I had fun doing things alone with my step-mom, but when we were with my dad, I felt hopelessly awkward.

I was depressed, and didn't know it. I felt like I didn't belong in my own home. I felt guilty when I visited my mom, because I wondered if my dad and step-mom thought I was strange for wanting to visit someone with a serious drinking problem. I felt guilty for wanting to do activities alone with my dad, because I thought my step-mom wouldn't like it. I had thought that I wanted my parents to divorce, because then the fighting would end. I never expected to feel so awful, and so alone. After my dad and step-mom started having kids, I gave up trying to fit in with them ; instead, I stayed busy with friends, school, activities, and work. I figured they would be glad if I stayed away more. When they got their first family portrait without me, it confirmed in my mind that I was a thorn in their sides. My step-mom once said, "If only you had your mother." In retrospect, I think she was being sympathetic, but at the time, I heard her comment as, "I don't want to be in the role of your mom." Another time she tried to encourage me by saying, "You could do anything, go anywhere in your life." I heard her comment as, "I don't care if you end up living close to us or not." The warmth and the desire for closeness that I had grown up with in my very flawed natural family wasn't there, because it wasn't really my family.

Years passed, and I started going to church regularly. I quit smoking and excessively drinking. I married an amazingly patient, trustworthy man. Early in our marriage, at times I was paralyzed by fear that he would abandon me. At first, I was afraid to have children, because they might grow up and hate me. On the contrary, my kids have been a source of healing in my relationship with my parents and step-parents. They gave us something to focus on other than our own awkwardness. Yet some things never heal. When we visit my hometown, we have to divide the time in half between my mom's and my dad's. There is not much time to be with either of them once it is divided. It is like having half a relationship with each one of them. Children, young or grown, relate to their parents as a unit. When one is absent, something is missing. Mom isn't there to fill me in on what is going on with dad, as only a mother can do.

I can't share my good childhood stories comfortably with my mom or my dad. I'm afraid of making my mom sad, because she has so much guilt and sadness about the past. I don't want to bring up childhood stories with my dad, because I am never alone with him. Somehow I feel like a traitor to his current family if I were to talk openly about memories from his "other" family. It is like my whole childhood is a big, sad secret that no one wants to mention. My beautiful mom and handsome father are a memory that I hold in my heart and mind, just like their old photos that I keep packed away in a box. I thank God that I belong to my own husband and children, as well as to my paternal grandparents, who are still living. No one can take that away. But the pain and consequences of a lost family of origin remain.


Legal Issues and a Lifetime of Stress

My parent's divorce could potentially be the cause of my depression, anxiety, OCD, social anxiety, and schizophrenia. Things got quite bad in a way you might not expect. There was no hitting or drinking involved.

I was born to my parents when they were dating. The two had been in love throughout high school, and they were both 24 when I was born, so they had been dating for a long time. They got married when I was 2 and moved out of my mom's mother's apartment into their own.

Sadly, they didn't love each other any more. My dad says they didn't even sleep in the same bed anymore. It was inevitable for them to split. Here's a story my peers love to laugh at: when I was 3, my mom said she was taking me to my grandmother's for a few weeks. They both knew that we were never coming back.

Things were okay for a few years. We didn't have enough money for our own apartment, so we stayed with my grandmother until I was 5. My dad would visit and eventually I would go to his house every Thursday after school.

When I was 5, things changed.

My mom and stepdad met and started dating. BEFORE my parents technically divorced. It was illegal for them to date. My grandmother left to help my aunt so my mom and I had to find our own apartment, which we did, in late August 2007. My stepdad visited a lot. While I visited my dad, he made a lot of mistakes. He let me stay up too late, he left me alone with his adult male house mates, he gave me donuts for breakfast, he never got me to school on time, he took meds with weird side effects (he got naked once), he even let me drive his car down an empty street. When I was 5.

In early April 2008, I moved for the final time in a while to a little apartment a town over. I hated it then because I had to switch schools when I started first grade. I hated the elementary school I went to from then on forever. It had a bad reputation for a very good reason. But this isn't a story about bullying, now is it? The point is, my stepdad was living with us.

My oblivious young self acted as a spy. I would tell my dad, "Mom and (stepdad) lock their door at night" and I would tell my mom, "Dad let me watch inappropriate movies." Of course, I just named the movies, but you get the point.

In first grade things started getting worse. My mom and stepdad (who was moving in and out of our house all the time) hated my dad. I was only allowed to see him during supervised visits (which is still happening now, I don't see him much). My mom put me in therapy.

I was oblivious the whole time. Why did I have to stay out of my house for a week? Why were the cops there all the time? Why was a strange man asking me questions?

In third grade, they finally got divorced and my mom and stepdad married.

That was 5 years ago, but things aren't exactly better. My parents still bad-mouth my dad right in front of me. My dad's endless promises of "by next summer we can see each other again" and "I just need to go to court" have never come true. I still never see him. I love him (he's nicer to me than my mom and stepdad) and believe he's changed, though. I know he's changed.

I mean, when I was about 9, my grandmother told a girl whose parents were getting divorced who had the cops come to her house and take her dad away a few weeks prior that I had had it worse. Maybe not, but it still felt traumatizing. I still cry about it.

I don't think I fully expressed just how painful everything was so I apologize if I seem dramatic, but this was a truly horrifying experience for me. I say it could've attributed to my mental illnesses because my anxiety began probably when I was about 7, with schiz and OCD probably following shortly after, and then my depression developed around when I realized what was happening (but I was realizing more than that, so I don't know). Not sure about social anxiety though. That was a major part of my life and one of the only ones I cam think of causing me to develop these awful things.

That just goes to show you how awful it was. I'm sure people are gonna tell me "other people have it worse" or "you're too young to have problems," but whatever.

And remember, no matter what your parents have put you through, you can make it through it. I promise.


Trying to Outrun the Curse

My parents got divorced as I was entering high school. I generally say it hit my younger brother the hardest. I think that's just because his reaction was more outward. My dad is on wife #3. Hopefully, she's the final one.

My mom didn't remarry. She viewed it as her keeping her vow, since my dad wasn't dead. Thankfully, she found comfort in Jesus and didn't bring another man into the home.

I became a statistic on many levels...heavy drug use and recklessness. Finally, after a trip to rock bottom, I found myself back in school and working overtime to prove that I wasn't a failure. I'm married now with a family of my own, and I work and stress myself out trying not being the father and husband my dad was. Sometimes, the stress can get overwhelming, but if I can just do these 2 things right, I will look back on my life and smile.


Dads new baby

by Madison (Las Vegas )

Isabelle

Isabelle

When I was younger my biological mother thought she couldn't get pregnant until she got me. I'm the oldest if a younger sister (2 years ) and my biological parents divorced when I was 4. My mom found a new person. A great one! And moved to Las Vegas leaving my biological dad alone and waiting until my sister an I were ready to talk to him one day again on the east coast.

Ten wonderful years passed by until I started going through puberty I noticed my parents where changing too.... By the time it was time for me to go into high school my dad was sleeping in the guest room (my old room). I was auditioning for a music school and my parents knew it was important to me. So they stayed together up until my audition. I passed the audition and my family kept it together up until August last year (this time of year) we went on a vacation to Aruba an my dad bought a necklace spelt the letter "p" on it.... My moms name is Nichole. I knew it was for someone else and I asked him about it an he smiled an pushed it away.

The rest of the trip he talked crap about my mom which I didn't really like but couldn't build the courage to tell him to stop cause I figured/hoped he would anyway. After the trip things went down hill. My mom catch my dad kissing / righting notes to other women the night if my homecoming. They split that night... My mom came into my room an told me he left and it was over. I cryed because I felt guilty that my mom was gonna find out about what I knew and I didn't know what she was going to think. Drama went down and we all knew my dad wasn't living at his apartment..

By the time January hit I goin myself a wonderful boy ...(also)I play the cello and one day when he was taking me to rehearsal he finally told me about his lover he was with. She was our old house keeper. Perla.. I found out what "P" standed for. I was so happy for him not even understanding the whole theme of it all an how messed up it was..

I fought with my mom like crazy. She still wasn't completely over the healing proses. Time went on my mom an I fought an fought and one day in march our fight got so bad I moved out she would hit my sister an I and I had to move out leaving my sister behind. I had to give my cat to my dads friend because perla (my dads lover/girlfriend) was allergic. And pregnant.... She was 5 months pregnant when I moved there that night. I met her and her baby bump and her two kids the boy was my age and the girl was 3 years younger but very mature.

Months past and one day the youngest girl wanted to sneak out and asked me to cover for her. She didn't listen to my instructions and got us both in deep deep trouble. Nothing's been the same since then. The tone of the house became quiets and awkward. Me and her weren't talking until the baby was finally ready. The baby was born on July 22,2014. Isabelle. I wasn't aloud the tell my mom or sister about the baby until the divorce was over..She was born on a topic of lies and trouble. I noticed so was I. I KNOW my dad an his girl friend wont last. In that awkward silence of face timing my boyfriend and bein locked in my room. I really came to terms with reality. This whole thing is messed up! I came to terms of what I wanted! My boyfriend said I seemed much happier at my moms. My dads had a track record now. My dad and his girl friend Tryed to break Louis and I up by telling my lies about him and me getting mad at him! We broke up for a week untill I put two an two together ... I was so angry.

Currently I'm moving back to my moms. To get my cat back and my life back.. I realized yeah my dad does care about me but he ony needed me to live there so he didn't have to pay child support... I know that now because I talked to him about it today and he totally made it obvious. To this day my dad an mom are still technically marryed. I've been righting I Isabelle for when she's older and can understand. I don't know what the future holds... But I know I'll be much wiser.


Great Books on the Subject of Divorce and Children

by Thomas M. Loarie (Danville, CA, USA)

I became a single parent of a 13 year old son and a ten year old daughter when my wife of 16 years decided to pursue a "new" life 400 miles away from our home.

I spent a great deal of time and money doing what I could to minimize the damage that abandonment and divorce would have on my children. I came to know Judith Wallerstein and her 30 year Ford Foundation-funded longitudinal-study of the effects of divorce on both parents and children. Her books, "Second Chances," and "The Legacy of Divorce: 25 years later" are must reads for anyone who is contemplating divorce or who has suffered from divorce (again parent or child). A protege of hers, Elizabeth Marquardt, also authored a book, "Between Two Worlds," that I highly recommend. These are also great books for those involved in family counseling.

Finally, Mitch Pearlstein, former deputy secretary of the Department of Education, added another important book, "From Family Collapse to America's Decline," that deals with government policy, unwed mothers, incarceration, poverty, and education. All who have been touched by divorce and remain open to changing the direction of our country will find this useful. Pearlstein presents the evidence and connects the dots.

Educate yourself and get involved. The family is becoming extinct.


The cascade of generations of divorces

by Janet (New York)

I am the child of multiple generations of multiple divorces. Both of my grandmothers, who were born around 1900, were divorced twice. My mother was divorced twice, and so was my father. I'm not sure about my grandfathers; I think one was divorced twice.

I grew up thinking marriage was a bad idea, but my boyfriend was afraid of displeasing his parents, insisted on it, so we married. And divorced.

I became Christian, and realized that bad marriages didn't mean that marriages were bad. So I married an intermittent alcoholic. And divorced.

My younger sister refused to legally marry, but was "divorced" several times before finally officially marrying in her late 30's. She stays married because it is a good business arrangement (to quote her), but is divorced in her heart, and is waiting for her husband, who has a cardiac problem, to die.

Since my parents didn't get divorced until after I left home, you could say I am not a child of divorce. But then, my father made it very clear to my mother on their honeymoon that he would never treat her as a wife.

My younger sister is a child of divorce, and she is worse off emotionally than I am. She smiles and sparkles, and is extremely successful, but is also emotionally dead, and incapable of genuine love.

She did make sure her children had a stable home. Perhaps they will be the first members of our family in over a century not to divorce.

Please. Don't.


So it is My Fault

by Nicholas (California)

My mother left because she was "not happy." It was a simple answer, but it changed how I saw myself and everything else consequently. She said she had me out of wedlock, and back then felt pressured to marry, and no longer wished to stay with a man (my father) whom she didn't truly love. She wanted to control her life, pursue her dreams, follow her destiny. But as far as I knew, she'd been doing that her whole life already.

I would've felt sorry for her if I hadn't been dumped off at day cares or distant relatives while she went to go out with her friends. I would've felt sorry for her if the reason I was at school so late wasn't because she wanted a promotion at work. I would've felt sorry for her if the reason I was eating cereal and PB&J sandwiches every day wasn't because she was too lazy to get me something to eat. I would've felt sorry for her if the only reason she took us out to Chuck-E-Cheeses wasn't to be distracted and force us to play with the children of her adulterous lover.

If my mother had left my father after selflessly giving herself to the end to put her child at least through high school, even better, college(!), than I would've said: "Hey, my mother may not have been happy, but she put her happiness below her love for her child and after all this sacrifice, I'd support a peaceable separation now that I'm out of the house and all grown up." But she didn't. Even while married, even while still responsible for kids, she prioritized her happiness. In the end, every major turn in my life after that day she walked out of the house when I was only 8 or 9 years old, would be a result of me (and my younger sister) riding on the back of her every decision to pursue her own happiness. Her every new house and apartment, her vain attempts to integrate her boyfriend and eventual (legal, though rightly not recognized by our Church) second husband, all leading up to the two new daughters she had with him.

She was not "happy" she said, before she took control of her life. Now she was. But what puzzled me as a child was how every step towards her happiness meant my sadness. My alienation. My struggle. When she moved out of the house, I had to pack and unpack my entire life to accommodate each week where ever in the world she had decided to live next. As she introduced her boyfriend into our lives, I had to deal with the psychological guilt of being obedient and respectful to the man who was the cause of the divorce, the one who was the reason she'd come late to pick me up at school or leave me with virtual strangers to have dates. And once she had more children with him, step-siblings whom I love unconditionally for their is no personal fault in them, I had no choice but realize the sobering fact that HER happiness was contingent on whether she could replace her imperfect mistakes with my father (myself and my sister included) with children that were brought about in her state of new found happiness.

She'll never admit it to us though, that's so buried down in her consciousness that only therapy can bring it out. But I noticed it! "I still love you." She reminds us constantly. But love is supposed to be self-less and my whole life, the example of love has always been one that seeks to satisfy oneself before any obligation before that. Yes, my mother wasn't happy in her marriage. But her children were. Her children had no idea of the gulf between father and mother. But rather than subordinate her desires, she fed them until the idea of putting her flesh and blood through such stress became feasible.

I left my mother eventually, when I grew old enough to make the call. I was scandalized by a certain incident wherein I was forced to listen to her and her new significant others' amorous activities without any consideration to my presence and my sensibilities and boundaries. In other words, I was tired of being second in her life. I was sick of a love which never took me into consideration. Since then I've been consistently with my father and his big loving Mexican family, many of which's member's have been the victims of affairs in their own failed marriages. We support each other, my uncles and aunts raise their siblings' children as their own if they lack fathers or mothers and we cousins support each other like brothers and sisters.

Thankfully, I've since learned what true love looks like with my true family. And you know what, it makes me happy to be no one's liability or mistake, but to be loved and cared for. And I hope with all my heart to recreate the same with my family.


A Living Death

by Sean (Nova Scotia)

I was born late in 1964. Gen-X leaning late Boomer, I guess.

My father had severe mental illness & self-medicating drug & alcohol abuse. From his mid-20s, he was on a downward bipolar/ psychosis spiral which slowly shredded his marriage, and the life of his wife and three kids. Sadly, because he was still very high-functioning, he refused treatment with the then-new Lithium protocols.

Essentially, from 1974 through to the 1990s, there was almost no part of my life that was untouched by their separation (1977-8) and divorce (1981). Family life & order went to hell, my brothers and I lived in the chaos of his visits & divided holidays, and in a home (Mom got custody) in which regular meals were rare, new clothing had to be begged for, cleaning was non-existent, and neglect and emotional manipulation were the order of the day.

At the time, I remember seeing books and magazines at home, arguing the idea that kids were resilient, divorce was a bump in the road, and everybody would recover nicely.

I suffered from severe childhood depression from probably 1975-6 into adulthood; I carried a fear of commitment (let alone marriage) into my 20's. The emotional chaos, neglect, and abuse of a divided family (which soon included a step-mother figure I was supposed to love, even though she represented the death of my hopes that my parents might somehow reconcile) have made it very hard to be a husband, father, and friend.

Even though both of my parents are now dead, their destructive relationship & our careless upbringing has meant my brother is a high-functioning teenager, though in his mid-40s; my other brother married badly, and is now divorced; and while I am still married, that my relationships are complex, fraught with anxiety, avoidance, and an almost PTSD-like dysfunction.

Divorce breaks people. When kids are growing up (birth-13, especially), divorce unsettles their fundamental relationships and assumptions about good, bad, mommy & daddy, home & safety, their own goodness and relationship to events in their lives, and so much more. Some of this damage is never healed, or heals poorly; most children of divorce are damaged in ways which are only revealed as they grow up, and try to being adult lives, relationships, marriage, parenthood, and useful lives in work & community.

When my parents were separated in the 70s, it was literally the first such in my whole school; yet now, 50% of marriages end in divorce, and some kids are born outside of a stable marriage in the first place-- here is is a recipe for another 30-50 years of terribly damaged, emotionally crippled & rootless people. Such people likely to marry late, if at all; postphone childbearing, extend immature life-choices & self-medication substances & behaviours.

We must have more & better marriage preparation. We must make separation & divorce harder, and get rid of no-fault divorce, punitive anti-male divorce settlements, excessive lawyerly interference, and make sure that children receive counselling and care, post-divorce, over years, and not just at the moment.

Just a few thoughts.