Tell Ruth the Truth

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

"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.

The myth of divorce as the way to solve all your problems

by CTW

My parents divorced when I was 9...

...and proceeded to continue to fight with one another for my entire childhood and into my adult life.

My own marriage also ended in divorce, and yet the conflict has continued for the past 12 years and is likely to continue at least until the youngest child is out of college.

And then, even when the overt conflict has ceased, the negative impact of divorce remains.

My experiences demonstrate that divorce, billed as a way to solve all your problems, merely exchanges one set of horrible problems for a completely different but equally horrible set of problems.

Note that I'm not referring to divorces that were done in order to end violent, abusive marriages, or marriages that were unsafe or damaging. Obviously, divorce in those situations may be the lesser of two evils. I'm referring to the vast majority of divorces that are done for lesser reasons.

Divorce for "unchastity", or so they claim...

by Rebekah (Michigan)

When I was young I used to tell people that I was glad my parents weren't together. When probed further I could only fall back to the fact that I had hardly remembered them together and that they seemed so different from one another. I would then try to highlight their vast differences.

I felt like an outcast in my small catholic school. I'm sure I wasn't the only kid with divorced parents, but for some reason I felt rather alienated because of it. I wasn't invited to the kid's parties whose dad's were deacons, or so it seemed. Instead I was banished to the one or two kids who would drift in an out over the eight year span, and also had divorced parents. We always seemed to be "in some kind of trouble". I did make some lasting connections, however, so no regret for that.

When I strained hard enough, I could visit various swirling memories of my dad, asleep in my mother's (now) solitary bedroom, I was met with his sleepy smile, a Christmas morning scene. Bittersweet: this vision always preceded my old brother and my mom, huddled in front of the heat vent on the dining room floor, sobbing together. My dad might have been there to break the news of their divorce, but all I can see when I look back is the three of us- without my dad, a new reality we would now face, sobbing in unison. I was so little! As if only a mirror of my mother's tears. It was later that I realized the pain I felt was the brokenness of a family being torn apart forever, no turning back. The fight on landing steps, the Babs Bunny doll I was clutching laying in my bed, thought to be sleeping. The slamming doors and screams. Though this fight was a single event, it plays over and over again in my mind. I stopped trying to piece all of the memories together, but to me I think this one in particular meant that even though my parents may have tried to work it out one more time, it was indeed over again, again for good.

Then came the slew of girlfriends. All the women that meant more to my father than I ever could. That's how it felt. I still have a complex for the ways that I felt, the guilt, the shame of not having handled it all better. Everything became so exaggerated in my mind. Then came the obsessive thoughts and behaviors I still experience this very day. I would try to pass the time laying awake at night, unable to sleep. The anxious patterns I still cannot escape and the countless insecurities.

Later my father remarried, a woman with two daughters. They tried hard to incorporate us all together into a lovely and happy blended family. This never happened.

No one ever told me why my parents divorced. Until my aunt did when I was seventeen. Apparently it was an affair, which explained the briefly abusive girlfriend, the first one.
I dropped out of high school that year.

This is a never ending story- it plays over again and again. My mother wasn't innocent either, at least that what my dad reminds me of every time I try to talk to him about what ensued all those years ago. I've gone through hating him and pushing him away, as well as periods of trying to repair our "lost" relationship and emotional bond. The former in my teens and the latter in my twenties. It's still a struggle.

My mother remarried too, this was only about a year ago. I feel comfort to know that she will be cared for as she gets older, whether or not the relationship is valid.

No one is perfect. I can only hope to remember that when I look at my own husband now, and hope I can escape the predisposition to follow in my parents footsteps. I don't think my husband understands, but he tries. Like another woman wrote in her story, I'll never get over it. But by God's grace I can hope to take away what I hope not to do in my own marriage and family.

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.