Spoiled Children of Divorce

Are You The Turkey?
November 27, 2009, 1:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Happy Thanksgiving.  If you have both of your parents you really are lucky.  No, really, you are.  You won’t be feeling like you are right now because today is the official kick off date for the Holidays.  But, yes, you are lucky.  Your parents love you.  They are alive and they do love you (in their own way — only a Child of D from 2 dysfunctional families can understand what I mean by that).

So, today I’m driving along listening to my local NPR station.  And the commentator is asking people to call in and discuss their losses in life.  Sorry I can’t remember the guy’s name.  Anyway, my Local NPR station, politically correct as it is, couldn’t care less about the sorrows of the Child of D.  One young college aged Child of D female called up and said that she was happy that she was old enough to be at College celebrating with her friends rather than batting around in the Holiday Hell that is her Mother’s house and her Father’s House.  She said that she regretted that her younger siblings were still at home going through the ping pong game (basically as the ball) that is common at this time of year.  My goodness.  Why would anybody want to deal with all those scheduling conflicts and bitter, back-stabbing parent games?  This is a season of Joy and Sharing, after all.

Moving on, the politcally correct talk show host, who up to that point sounded like he could weep for a rock that had just been stepped on, smartly cut the young Child of D off with a curt “Well, there are many, many who suffer those same losses.”  Nothing new with that reaction.  And I assume that this guy has a kid or two and an ex-or two of his own from his defensive.  The young College Age Child of D sputtered and the politically correct talk show host cut off the phone call and moved on to someone else who obviously had suffered a real loss.

Just for writing this down, my words will be forever construed as bitterness and vengeful.  Yet, they are a simple recounting of what really happened.

8 Comments so far
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You’ve raised a very good point. A bereavement is awful and society (often the whole family, aunts, uncles etc) rallies round children who experience it. Yet a divorce can be just as traumatic for a child, arguably more so because the parent who is “lost” is alive and well, often living with another partner and the family splits which can make the poor child feel guilty and abandoned yet because divorce is so common they’re expected to put up with it because “everybody else has to”. In any case, who’s to judge whether one person’s loss is worse than another’s?

I find it particularly infuriating when anyone (in any situation) asks for help or just wants someone to listen to them and are let down. I really feel for that poor girl and the talk show host deserves to be sacked (or worse, but my suggestion wouldn’t be printable)

Comment by sal

Hi Sal,

Thanks for your comment. Kids used to be left out of the grieving process if a parent died. Then things changed because people became aware of the unnecessary emotional damage this can cause. It’s very interesting to me that people have turned around and repeated the same behavior with children in divorce situations. I guess things never change and people never really learn.

I can completely understand a divorced person’s need to stifle a person’s “complaining” about discussing their parents’ divorce. With death there is no blame. With Divorce there are gobs of blame. By the time a person has gone through a divorce they are experts at fighting and manipulation. And they don’t want any more conflict. And kids understand this and know that existence for a single parent is hard enough as it is.

I just don’t accept the forced silence as healthy for the person from the divorced family, especially when it comes from an “expert,” and I think that there needs to be awareness of this. I don’t think the blame thing is a particularly difficult thing to fix, all a person has to do is to say he/she is sorry for the situation, and to try to keep the communications open for trying to fix mistakes in the future without losing authority as a parent, but for some reason the ego gets all balled up around this. Maybe fear of swinging in the opposite direction so that the kid starts working their guilt and manipulates them.

Comment by toothless

Hello again – what a good point, and you make it sound so simple! I completely agree that communication is the key to it and if the adults/parents involved were able to do just that without worrying about scoring points over their exes or soon-to-be exes and just concentrating on the child’s viewpoint it would solve a lot of problems, or at least be a good start.

You have reminded me that kids used to be kept out of all emotional or difficult situations – “this is just for grown-ups, dear” being a common phrase I heard as a child. Kids can be extraordinarily perceptive about things. They’re also very honest which may be why some parents don’t want to open up to them in these situations in case the kids blurt out the truth when the adults are in denial.

My youngest child is a bit like that – some time ago while in a packed train a bloke was snoring his head off and she said “Mummy, why’s that boy making that noise with his mouth open”. A friend of mine told me that when he was a child he got a ticking off for blurting out “why does Granny smell of cabbage?” (or something like that).

Sorry, I’ve digressed a bit, but I do think the key issue is, as you say, communication. People (especially kids) should be allowed to express their feelings and be properly listened to without fear of reprisals, recriminations or the dreaded analysis. Which goes back to my anger on reading your article here because this poor girl clearly wanted to communicate to someone and was cut off by some idiot who shouldn’t have asked people to phone in about their losses if he wasn’t prepared to listen.

Comment by sal

Hi Sal, I certainly don’t think it’s simple. Yes, communication would be nice. But, kids generally haven’t developed their communication abilities yet because they are just kids. So, nobody knows what they are feeling. I know that most Children of D freeze their feelings due to fear of adding to the problems. For survival, they know to defer to their parents’ survival issues as single parents and newly married people. Any digression and the parents default into that old “he/she is manipulating me because I feel guilty about my new life” anyway in order to avoid looking at the bigger picture.

In a divorce the tensions are so high that during the first few years (and forever in many cases) the only people who are allowed to have feelings are probably the parents who are dealing with their wrecked relationship(s). The parenting side of things is simply overwhelming so the child must act like the adult. The kids have no hope that things will be simple again. The parents do. I know that my step-sister was constantly reminding my step-mother that financially they were much better off with my father than without him and that this makes life easier.

In divorce very often the child, or at least one of the children, becomes the fill in partner, friend, shrink and overall pal of the custodial parent. This is so common that I don’t even think it is considered unusual anymore, or even unhealthy. Yet, in intact families this is generally considered unhealthy behavior for a child to develop into. In divorced families it is almost necessary.

So the rules of the two types of families are completely different. And generally the parents try to carry on as if the rules for Intact families still should work.

And, yes, it is really awful that the girl who called into the radio show was brushed off. I know that older siblings often have a lot of guilt about leaving their younger siblings at home to deal with the Holiday Hell on their own. Having been the younger child in my family I can honestly say that being burdened with Holiday Hell by ones’ self while watching the older sibling enjoying his new freedom really is a lonely experience.

Thank you for your awareness. There’s some room for creative family planning in the future in this area, that’s for sure. We could start, of course, with the practical side, where women are paid equally in the work place. But, still, within society single mothers are left out of a lot of social events due to the threats they pose to married women so I don’t have hopes for any true resolution anytime soon.

In the end I think that most single parents will marry anybody no matter how badly their kids are being treated (or simply by how badly their kids are feeling about the situation).

Comment by toothless

Thank you for posting this. I see it all too often myself. A child of divorce articulating the damage they’ve endured only to have their pain sloughed off as being meaningless, a result of weakness, or being ‘stuck’. It makes me angry.

I think you may be right in your assessment that the host was a divorced parent. I’ve experienced this in the comments of some of my own posts. Divorced parents insinuating that I should be healed by now or that (my personal favorite) their children are doing just fine. I think the sentiment is fueled by guilt. Their guilt gets triggered by one of us brave children of divorce and it scares them or makes them ashamed and they reach for the only thing that seems to quench the feeling – denial.

But you know, I’ve also experienced and witnessed us children of divorce do this to each other. I would suspect that if the host wasn’t a divorced parent, they may just have been a child of divorce who has bought into the rhetoric that we should be unaffected and if we aren’t then we just weren’t good or strong enough. In the face of that, someone speaking the truth can be very unraveling. And again the defense mechanism – denial. Again, I’ve read the words in comments on my own blog “look at me, I’m doing just great!”

Hey, we are not all the same. There are some of us thriving while some of us aren’t. There are some of us severely damaged and some of us who are quite healed. But when are we as a society riveted in divorce, going to be strong enough to listen to it’s pain and be brave enough to share our own without at the same time needing to embrace the stigma of a character flaw? Again, it makes me angry. It makes me wish I had something compelling to chant through the streets akin to “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” but without the homosexual slant. If you think of one, let me know.

I can’t say enough how much I like your blog. Your posts resonate so deeply with me, I’d daresay we are kindred spirits of sorts. So often, I feel like a lone entity in the blogosphere – do different from the mom bloggers, step mom bloggers, single mom bloggers and the like. Yours always reminds me I’m not completely alone. Thanks for that.

PS Your post made me think of one I wrote a while back called Worthy of My Scar Such similar themes.

Comment by Carolyn (the grown up child)

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your comment, as usual! I can understand the guilt and denial. It’s sort of strange that just as society caught on that a child needs help getting through his parents’ death, society puts pressure on kids to be completely silent about the parents’ divorce(s).

Long-term marriages used to be very uncommon just through the fact that the death rate was so high. It sounds sort of luxurious in a Stephen King kind of way, at least for the Widowers. Not only does your incompatible wife die, but there’s no alimony, and everyone’s feeling sorry for you and taking care of you. (Women didn’t benefit from death of a spouse because of finances and lowered status of being a single woman/mother) People basically just don’t know how to stay married because it wasn’t a common thing.

What you describe in the excellent post that you linked to (which I agree with), so describes the idea that I wrote about Virgo being the sign in Astrology that represents Children of D (that’s a stupid title for us but I can’t figure out anything else — I’ve got to pay attention to your title). The perfectionism, and the whole realistic thing of realizing that it wasn’t that bad, and of always moving on and staying “real.” I agree with you that most of us will say that we’re fine. Everything about us that may or may not be fine is so difficult to describe and generally “happened so long ago.” The one thing that Children of D know is that nothing is permanent and you are expendable and replaceable if you make a fuss. And everyone knows that their parents meant well and were searching for happiness, and how can you be judgmental of people who want to be happy?

In my case, my parents were both miserable after the divorce. And since my father married my friend’s mother I had more complicated relationships and feelings of betrayal to deal with through friendships. Kids in Jr. High have best friends who turn on them but very seldom do they have best friends who gang up on them with their mother and spend the next 20 years going after your father’s money. So that’s probably why I don’t have a problem with speaking out. I never have.

But I sure recognize what you are saying about kids saying that the divorce didn’t affect them. It’s great for me because I’m finding that they follow the astrological cycles really well and they repeat the damage at key moments just like clockwork. Well, I’ve got more work to do on this before I say anything for certain.

Glad you like the blog, Carolyn. I like your blog as well and am glad you’re doing it because you’re a great writer and a positive spirit.

Comment by toothless

Hello – what a great post and so true! It applies to all sorts of things, but especially divorce.

An old work-colleague of mine lost her husband and took such a long time to get over it and I always made a point of saying to her “how you doing today” and on a bad say she’d say “not so good” so we’d sit down and just have a chat about it, but she always used to tell me that many people would ask her how she was and if she dared to say “not good” they’d look at her as if she was at fault for not having got over it and she really ought to be over it by now.

I think divorce is worse because there’s a stigma attached (I think the term “blame”‘s been used) and people generally tend to think it can’t be as bad as a bereavement. What rubbish. Is there really some kind of formula out there that says society requires you to be over a bereavement in y months and over a divorce in x months and if you don’t meet that requirement there’s something wrong with you?

I’m actually not a child of D. I’m a “secon-generation child of D” so am not as directly affected by it as you guys, but I have seen a lot of friends messed up by their parents’ divorce. So I am particularly interested in the subject, especially from the viewpoint of the children who have gone through it and are now grown up so able to articulate their feelings in an adult environment, so I think your blogs are really interesting – keep them up!

Comment by sal

Hello Sal. Thanks for your comment and for your insights. We have to now accept that kids who were raised by 2 Children of D are going to be growing up. How was that as an experience? I’m imagining that it could have been pretty neurotic. Was everyone just constantly discussing “how to work things out?”

If you actually bothered to ask a grieving co-worker how she was doing you are a nicer person than most, that’s for sure. When my parents were dying only one person ever asked me how they were doing. I only know jokes at this point about the time limits that are set for getting over things. In a death the person is no longer around so eventually Time does heal the wounds. Sometimes people who have been long-term caretakers are relieved and dont really feel much for years. Divorce is different because the parents are still there. If their problems and conditions haven’t stood in the way of the kids’ development I suspect that the wounds might heal, but since nobody at this point is admitting that there are any wounds we really don’t know. I imagine that the Holidays still suck for most of us.

Comment by toothless

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