For Thanksgiving weekend, our daughter, Kaylee, was home from her sophomore year of college. While we all worked to prepare our meal, she told us about a paper she has to write for her communications class. It has to be a personal subject with a unique perspective, and she considered writing about the negative affects of divorce on young children versus older children.
I was interested in her perspective, mainly because we have a fully integrated home. She calls my husband “Daddy”, we are her first point-of-contact for anything, and she rarely talks to her real father anymore.
None of us think in terms of “step” or “not mine” — ever. So, to have her consider writing a paper about the negative affects of divorce gave me a bit of pause. She was four when her father and I divorced, and five when I remarried. She has no actual solid memories of life before my divorce – just flashes and ideas. I asked her what she meant.
She explained that of course there’s a negative side to it. She has family in two states – 600 miles away. She has three brothers by two of her dad’s ex-girlfriends whom she rarely sees, and never together.
She worries about them — about their well being, about their emotional state, about what their futures will be like. Everything in her life is here or there. There is no mingled, integrated family life for her.
And while she has never been treated different because she’s a “step daughter” versus how our other children are treated, going through the teen angst period taught her how bad she COULD be made to feel if my husband Gregg had been any less of an intentional father.
Even though her personal experience was good, so many of her friends didn’t share that same experience and have different stories to tell.
She is also incredibly leery of any relationship. She is super picky, and at nineteen has only had two real boyfriends. Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s just that she is so afraid of a commitment that will crumble.
She worries that what she will put an effort into building will ultimately be chipped away until nothing remains. What she decided to counter that is with the idea that if a man doesn’t turn her on to God with a passion, and if he doesn’t love Jesus more than he loves her, he’s not the man for her. As her parents, we’re fully on board with that plan.
On the other hand, she told us about her friend whose parents told her right before school started this year that they are getting a divorce.
She’s nineteen, works a job, pays her own rent, goes to school full time — yet the news of her parents’ divorce has sent her into a depression spiral where she is self-medicating with drinking.
Kaylee is worried about her but knows that she’s not the one who can take her pain away. Even though she’s on her own, her life — her entire life — has disappeared in a single decision.
Whether that decision is justified or not, it doesn’t change the fact that everything that is normal in her life no longer exists.
Kaylee’s paper will be a comparison of the two. Which is better? To grow up in a divorced environment or to deal with it as an adult? She can’t know the answer. In her observation, they’re both bad in different ways.
She knows our situation is really good. She knows that her life was better because of my divorce. However, that doesn’t take away her pain in struggling with the ramifications of it.
It’s possible that I should have noticed more as she grew up, realized that there were times she still struggled with a divided family and absent father.
I have no words of wisdom out there for you parents whose children have suffered from divorce other than to say this: don’t assume they’re not hurting. Even when they’re in the fold of the home that loves them unconditionally, don’t assume they’re not hurting.
Like Kaylee knows with her friend, she can’t take away her pain. But she can love her through it and knows a specific way in which she can pray for her. That alone may make all the difference in her friend’s world.