Tell Ruth the Truth

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

I fear having a family so much that I probably won't

by Noah (Baltimore)

My parents were allegedly a common law marriage, but the state they lived in didn't recognize common law marriage at the time, so far as I can tell. They were hippies, my father was a drunk and a junkie, my mother left him when I was 2 and my brother 4.

My mother followed with a string of male and female relationships, though most of my youth she was a lesbian. She remarried in our adulthood, but divorced again after 12 years. All her siblings are divorced. My father remarried 4ish times and recently in his 60s decided he is meant to be a woman. He also feels the need to reconnect with us but that's all too messed up. He's never had a role in our lives, and managed to pay child support for one month out of our whole childhood. I have always wrestled with a lack of male figures who were sound and enviable. My brother and I both experienced mild neglect but also physical and sexual abuse from unsafe environments.

My brother married but wrestles with his role as father. We both started dating late, totally winging it and being taken advantage of by women, along with our own capacity for meting it out in response. I haven't dated seriously for almost 20 years, I'm mostly desperate and sad at age 42 and very single and ever more isolated from others, despite my recent embrace of Catholicism. I've always wrestled with unanswered prayer and seemingly absent divine father. My mother actually hints at and encourages me not getting married and the pleasures of not having a committed family life (this...she says to her own child whose life she messed with...).

I feel and think and am beginning to believe He in His Infinite wisdom is isolating me to keep me from continuing in a failed family legacy spanning generations on both sides of abuse and neglect. I and others may think I'd be a wonderful father, but what do I know about being a son, to God or man (especially given my F'ed upbiological father, who thinks he's a woman...)?

No easy solution

My mom needed to divorce my dad. He had been physically abusive for years. Eventually he committed adultery. While my mother felt totally betrayed, there was a part of her that was glad she finally felt no one could expect her to stay married to him. That was when I was 13.

Now I'm an adult, married with children of my own. My husband is a good man, but the idea of divorce is never far from my thoughts. I'm afraid he will leave me later for a younger woman, solution: divorce. There are times I feel so depressed about myself, and I don't want to have to drag him down, solution: divorce. There are times I'm so upset with him for not being perfect, solution: divorce. There are times I'm just tired of dealing with all the needs of taking care of a whole other person, along with my children, solution: divorce. My mom has managed to live pretty happily as a single mom.

I know divorce is nowhere near justifiable for me, but I fear that I just don't have the skills or personality to have a thriving marriage. I look at other aging couples, and see a lot of frustrations and incompatibilities. Can I endure that long? Am I that good of a person?

My only hope is through Christ, that He can change me, heal me. I'm impatient for the day that divorce won't linger in my thoughts so much. I wonder if this really is because I'm a child of divorce, or if I'm just weak.

I love my husband and my children, and the emotional violence of divorce is repugnant to me. And maybe that is the silver lining, that because I hate what divorce did to me, I don't want to do that to my children.

The Parents Move On, But the Children Suffer Forever....

by Cindy (Pennsylvania)

I was born in 1967. My parents were on the cutting edge of society then. My mother had become a career woman in 1961, when my brother was an infant. There were no daycares, only grandmas. Even after I was born, my mother wanted little to do with marriage and family. My father didn't seem to mind much until his career took him to another state and my mother never adjusted. She returned home and they separated. I was 3. After a short period, I suffered an illness and my father returned home. They remained amicable for my sake. But by the time I was 6, they barely spoke. Each had their own life and their own indiscretions. By the time I was 9, my parents were divorced. I was the only kid in class with divorced parents. I was very sad and very confused. They kept a lot of secrets from me, hoping, I think, to make it easier for me to adjust.

Initially the custody situation involved my brother living with my father full time and me with my mother. Our family was split right in two pieces. But after a series of my mother's instability, my mother agreed to give me to my father. Along with that, my mother also agreed in the divorce settlement to sell a large amount of family property for some jewelry. It was an inheritance from her father, but she sold it to my father thinking that my brother and I would still benefit. How ever wrong she was.

My father immediately remarried after the required 6 months. His new wife had come from an abusive relationship and also had a disabled child. I grew to love my step-sister, and honestly I am grateful for that experience. It gave me a tenderness for children with special needs that I still carry today. After my step-sister's death, my father and step-mother had a daughter together. I was 13. My world changed after that. Naturally, my father needed to focus on his new family. I can't fault him for that, after all he had a wife and child. Only my step-mother never sustained a meaningful relationship with me. After my father's death, we spoke only a few times. I tried to rekindle our relationship about 10 years ago, but she had a new husband and new "children" and "grandchildren." Ultimately, neither I nor my own children meant very much and it died before it started.

After being abandoned by my mother, I spent my youth basically without a mother. I had no contact with her from age 11 until I was 21. I knew nothing about her, other than rumors or messages from her sister. I was left without a mother and with a huge void.

Basically, I grew up in a home where I was not really a part of a family and ripped apart from the family I had been given. In high school I told people I was adopted rather than explain that my parents were divorced. I did the best I could, but made no real connections with family or friends. I was angry all the time and felt cheated. My parents had moved on with their lives and my brother and I had to do the best we could.

My brother and I are statistics. We graduated highschool, but couldn't make it through college. Drugs and alcohol got the best of us. He spent a few years in prison. We have a grown half-sister who my brother is interested in and with whom I try desperately to have a relationship. It isn't easy, but we try.

Today, my father is gone. I am left to take care of an aging, disabled mother who abandoned me and about whom I care nothing. For 10 years, I have been caring for her. That's longer than she cared for me.

The pain and anger still lie under the surface. I often wonder how different my life would have been if my parents had toughed it out and stayed together. My mother's property that was left to her by her father was left to my step-mother in my father's will. She shares it with her new husband. My brother and I hardly speak. I can't even look at my mother with love and admiration.

Luckily, this is not a fate I wanted to pass on to my own children. Even though we have had some rough times, my husband and I have been married 22 years. We have 7 children who have both their mother and father together at home.

If I could tell people who are thinking of divorcing anything, I would say please, for your children, work it out. Whatever problems you have, you can solve them. Really, you can! Put your children first. When you got married, you committed to raising a family together. So do it!

Trust me, the parents might be able to put the life with their spouse behind them, but the children suffer forever, even after the parents are long gone.

2nd class citizen in my own family

by Second class citizen (USSA)

I was the eldest child in step family situations on both sides. It was like being a second class citizen in my own family. On my mother's side, a new child was born, and the entire family revolved around this new child. On my dad's side, he remarried women who had kids from prior relationships. In both instances, I felt like an "add on" and I felt like I was standing outside, looking in. I felt like my birthright was stolen from me. Not only did nobody care, I was expected to love these people and these situations, while they were not required to love my family on the opposite side. Emotionally it was a one way street--I gave love to their whole families, they gave love to 1/2 of mine.

Just today I had a conversation with a friend whom I had not talked to in a long time. She remarried a couple years ago, and new husband has younger kids. She remarked that even though she loves her husband very much, it is so hard with the kids, and she sounded a little bitter about it. The elder girl just turned 13 and is beginning to act up. I didn't say anything, but I wanted to say, "As hard as it is for you, it's about 100 times harder for the kids." I felt a little offended at her words. The kids intuit that their family has been destroyed, but they cannot articulate it yet. And even if they could, would they? Not likely. So they will act out. I'm sure that for now, they buy the crappy line that it's just an alternate family form. I call foul. It's only an alternative family form from the adult's perspective. From the child's perspective, their family has been destroyed. There is no way to sugar coat this--this is the reality.

I think it should be illegal for a parent to remarry if the kids are under 18, maybe even under 21. The new spouse, that spouse's family, and new children creates a new family structure, on that the older children are not part of, one that they may not even want to be part of. They don't want to be forced to love people and those people's family, who do not in turn love their whole family. It creates emotional obstacles for the older children that may take them their entire lives to unravel and heal. I'm 47 and to this day it still hurts.

ADULTS: WAKE THE F*** UP AND QUIT SACRIFICING YOUR CHILDREN SO THAT YOUR GENITALS CAN FEEL GOOD! It's really disgusting, so don't be shocked or surprised when your kids don't respect you, and don't you dare chastise them for objecting to your selfishness. They intuit more about how you're supposed to act than you know.

Light in the Storm

I remember watching from an upstairs bedroom window my father walking because my mother had tossed him out of the house. He had no where to go. I put my hand on the glass as a way of feeling that pain of him leaving. My father was sick due to Agent Orange. I was screaming with my heart and running toward him with my brother and sister in tow. But, I had to see him leave.

My mother was an alcoholic. Both of her parents deceased, died of cancer. She was the primary breadwinner; a registered staff nurse at our local hospital. She was raising three small children, claiming to her for every want and need. Her siblings, all halves, didn't do much for her except condemn and ostracize. My mother did things the "right way". She graduated college, married, and had her children to a God-fearing man. Something happened. I don't know what. My father was getting sick. No one knew why. We just had speculation to ease us with why.

My mother divorced my father.

My father lived in a hotel room and when the money became a strain, he lived in a homeless shelter with "druggies", "alcoholics", and frequent "jailbirds". My father witnessed to them and many were saved despite his health and socioeconomic status. My father was educated. A degree in Theology. He spent much of his life in/out of VA hospitals. His faith never wavered. He believed in us. My mother seemed to vanish in her mysteries on TV, her work, and the bottle. We had men come in/out of the house. We saw her get drunk and beat us because we were in the way. We got taken away, too. I was awarded to the court once and stayed from my family for six years. I came home finally when I was fifteen. My father's health staggered but he took care of 3 children all on his own. I was lucky. Very lucky. I had a father that cared. He couldn't shelter us from the world. We were better that he was that light to us; a hope we couldn't find until we all met Jesus.

My mother passed in 2000. My father eventually passed in 2013. I have three children and I am on my second marriage. It isn't the path that I dreamed having at 17 or any other age prior to now. I can say that I am grateful for it all. God has given me strength. He has given me wisdom. God uses ordinary people to His greater purpose. I am lucky. No, I am BLESSED.

Turned Out All Right?

by CTW (Illinois)

My mom denies how painful the divorce was for my brothers and I. Once we grew up, she openly mocked the statistics demonstrating poorer outcomes for children whose parents divorced, because we didn’t suffer any of the social pathologies to which we were statistically more susceptible:

  • none of us ended up in jail
    • all of us graduated from high school
    • all of us went to college (two of us finished and even went to grad school: one became a lawyer, one became a veterinarian; the third stopped college but joined the Navy and became a nuclear technician on a fast-attack submarine)
    • none of us developed a problem with drugs or alcohol
  • Now that we’ve all “turned out all right,” my mom continues to mock the above statistics, but what she cannot detect because it cannot be measured is the emotional pain, the psychological upheaval, and the gap in our upbringing and personal development due to the absence of our father.

    There is one other “social pathology” to which children of divorce are more susceptible—one that my mom conveniently ignores: it is much more likely that our own marriages will end in divorce.

    Mine already has. I’m in an interesting cohort: the first generation of kids affected by the new “no-fault” divorce laws. (My parents divorced in 1975, when I was 9). My children are in another interesting cohort: the kids of the kids of the first no-fault divorces.

    I have looked at divorce “from both sides now,” and no matter how you look at it, it stinks. As I was descending the steps of the courthouse after my divorce (I was the respondent, my husband was the petitioner), my attorney, wet-behind-the-ears and unwise, said, “Congratulations. He’s out of your life forever.” I just shook my head and said to him, “If only that were true.” Earlier in the divorce proceedings, an older attorney at the firm had spoken more wisely: “In a way, divorce is almost worse than death, because the relationship ends badly and then you still have to deal with the person as an adversary, at least until all the children grow up. And even then, sometimes the conflict doesn’t end.”

    That is my experience exactly. People get divorced because they think it will solve all their problems. In reality, all it does is exchange one terrible set of problems for a completely different but equally terrible set of problems. What a sad inheritance to pass on to one’s children. I'm 46 years old, my kids are 21, 20, and 16, and we're all still feeling it.

    The issues are legion

    There are too many sufferings in my life to list. Two things I would say are: Divorce and one remarriage ruined every holiday family gathering for me because parents or siblings pressured me to attend. I can't be in two places at the same time, and parents would be angry or saddened because they knew I was with their ex-spouse. Also visiting for a few hours and driving off to another household every holiday is exhausting for me and my family.

    Another thing I would say is that step-siblings are not my siblings, and a stepmother is definitely of no relation to me, so don't demand a Mother's Day gift!

    I wish my entire family would let me live in peace WITHOUT them. Divorce ends a family unit. When my parents got divorced, I should have also been released from my filial obligations.

    The plus side of divorce? I wasn't sad when one parent died because it removed that holiday stress. When the next parent dies, I will be sad, but then I will finally get to enjoy holidays with my husband.

    "The kids will be fine if the adults are happy..."

    by Anono-Mama (Planet Earth)

    I am the child of divorce. My parents divorced when I was about three, and I was bounced back and forth between their households my entire childhood.

    There were several things that were and still are very painful.

    My mom later remarried. I loved my step dad a lot, but when they had a child of their own, it was clear that I was not really part of this new family. They worked very hard to create a stable home for their new daughter, and seemed to care little for the fact that my life was torn into two pieces. My holidays were always split in two. There were some Christmas Eves in my teen years that I would spend with my dad, to ride home late at night by myself on an empty train to my mom's house to spend Christmas Day with her. Thanksgivings were mostly with my mom and not my dad. Not only did I have a life that was torn, I had to watch on a daily as my mother and her new husband created a safe nest for their new child. I became sullen and angry, and nobody knew why, myself included. They would say things to me like, "You're so cranky all the time!" This was like salt in a wound.

    My dad also remarried, two more times. In both instances the women had children from prior marriages. The first wife left abruptly and I never got a chance to say goodbye to her or her kids, whom after five years I had grown to love. While they were still married, my dad coached the boy's baseball team, took them to concerts, and expected me to baby sit for them while I was there. The wife never tried to cultivate a relationship with me and it was clear that she did not like me. My dad and his wife smoked pot and used cocaine. There was also pornography lying around in the form of magazines and black market VHS tapes. You can guess what we kids did with them. I was about 12, the other two were about 8 and 10.

    The next wife was a better step parent, in the sense that she did cultivate a relationship with me and did not seem to resent me. They were both alcoholics and seemed to enjoy the "keeping up with the Joneses" lifestyle. I later found out she was bisexual and left my dad for her lesbian lover. After he moved out, she took family photographs and other items and left them in the street for him to pick up. They got stolen; I will never be able to recover these irreplaceable items. My dad later died alone in a hotel room. I suspect he committed suicide, but I don't know for sure. He overdosed on cocaine, so it may have been accidental. The coroner called it an accidental overdose. He was in the middle of his third divorce. He had a Rolex watch that I never found.

    Generally speaking, I felt squeezed on two fronts. Psychologists say that kids feel shame in response to a parent's wrong doing (such as drug or alcohol addiction). That was true for me. I loved my dad but I was ashamed of/for him.

    The other way I felt squeezed was with my half sister. I loved her but I resented how much more my mom seemed to care for her than me. Both instances were a double bind.

    After I grew up, I joined a religious cult and spent 22 years there. It provided a certain stability that I never had while growing up. I also realize my upbringing conditioned me to accept my feelings being minimized and neglected by others. Not only were was I treated poorly and disrespectfully on a regular basis, I participated in treating others poorly and disrespectfully. On one level I new it was wrong, but on another level it seemed OK because it kept my status in the group secure.

    I could go on and on and on.

    There were some bright spots though. I have three healthy and beautiful adult children. As a youngster I got to ride horses a lot and trained for competitions, becoming a championship level rider. I went to excellent schools with outstanding teachers. I got good grades, participated in science fairs and art competitions and did well. Teachers almost always liked me, and I was well liked by my peers. After high school was able to attend a popular university. I suspect the good education helped me more than I could have appreciated at the time. I also got myself catechized and baptized at the Presbyterian church down the street from my home when I was in middle school. That irresistible grace was calling me. It still does. So in these respects I was lucky. Not every kid who undergoes divorce resides in wealthy neighborhoods like my parents (all of them) did. Money does provide a buffer of sorts.

    Given a choice, I would have traded all the perks in my childhood to live in a home with my mom and my dad. This is why I am so utterly opposed to the continued destruction of the marital structure at the policy level. The so called increase in freedom for adults is terribly unjust for children and conditions them to accept injustice.

    Divorce for good reason

    by army brat (America)

    My father came home from a deployment and had found me (a toddler) bruised after being abused by my mother. He took me, and left, and ultimately gained full custody (in the south, at a time when males receiving full custody was unheard of). We were financially wrecked, and although we prevailed through the legal system, it is hard to make it by with half of your pay being diverted to spousal support while you are forced to live off base while the child abusing mother is given base privileges. Additionally, she sold everything we owned, including my clothes. Sadly, this story is common for military families.

    I have only spent one court ordered hour with my mother since, and I am an adult. I have not seen some of my half siblings, but am aware of their existence.

    For me the hardest part was adjusting to having a step parent. The divorce doesnt bother me, especially after what happened to me, and my dad after. To say it does not bring pain, doubts, and questions would be a lie, however.

    Gifts for them but not me

    by sigh (Boston, MA)

    One time my step dad came home from a trip. We were all excited to see him, and he had some gifts.

    Two gifts, to be exact. One for my mother. One for my sister (his daughter).

    They both opened the boxes in front of me. Inside were matching jackets, a large one for my mother, and a small one for my sister. They ooo'ed and aw'ed.... and I just sat there, utterly stunned, thinking, "Why did they get matching jackets and not me?" I could not believe what I was seeing. And of course nobody said anything. It was as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened at all.

    And actually, in one sense that was true. Nothing out of the ordinary HAD happened. Their little family enjoyed the gifts as if I was not even there.