I knew the minute I walked in the door that something bad was about to happen. My parents were sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, who was home for the summer from freshman year in college. They looked very serious and said, “We need to have a family meeting.”
We hadn’t had a family meeting since I was in middle school. My sister and I got really busy with activities and school, and whenever our parents wanted to have one, we complained so much that we all agreed to stop. We still had movie nights and other fun family rituals, so there would be no reason to have a family meeting unless something terrible had happened. Was one of my parents sick? Were we having financial problems? Or maybe I was overreacting and the family meeting was just about having my sister and I help around the house more. I thought about how I should clean the kitchen better after making breakfast or how I left my stuff everywhere and how much it annoyed my mom.
But that wasn’t it.
“We’re getting a divorce,” my parents said, and my sister and I sat there, stunned. Our parents seemed happy! They loved each other! They loved taking walks and watching shows together. They made each other laugh. They were kind to each other and cooked together and went to dinner parties together and took romantic vacations together, leaving my sister and me to stay at friends’ houses for the weekend. Or… wait… suddenly I couldn’t remember seeing my parents like this because I’d been so wrapped up with homework and debate tournaments and being out with friends that I hadn’t really been paying attention to my parents at all. And while I wasn’t paying attention, their marriage had fallen apart.
At the family meeting, they told us that this had been a long time coming, and they did everything to try to work things out, but in the end, they realized after years of this that they couldn’t. It was the saddest family meeting ever, and my sister and I cried, and we ended up having many more family meetings talking about what this meant for a new version of our family–a version I couldn’t imagine.
When I told people what was happening, many people said something like, “At least you’re a year away from college so it won’t affect you like it would if you were younger.” And every time, I wanted to scream, “I AM NOT TOO OLD TO BE UPSET ABOUT MY PARENTS’ DIVORCE!!!!!”
Sometimes it felt like the only person who understood this was my sister, because people would say something similar to her: “At least you’re in college, so you don’t have to deal with spending half the week at each parent’s house. If this was going to happen, it’s good that it happened now.”
This completely missed the point. Our entire family was changing–forever–and it made me question everything I took for granted: love, marriage, stability, my future. Would my parents move me in to college together? Would they show up at my graduation with other partners? Where would we spend holidays? And if people who seemed to love each other for so much of my life couldn’t be together anymore, what was I to make of that? Would this affect my trust in future relationships?
It took going to a therapist for me to learn how to talk to people about how devastated I was about the divorce, how much anxiety I had because of it, and how much support I would need from both adults and friends my age. It also gave me a place to talk about how this is affecting me–without anyone saying it should be easier because of my age. I can cry, rage, grieve, and process everything I’m feeling without being careful not to offend my parents, who are obviously going through their own sadness. To their credit, they haven’t put any of their feelings on us, and they’re being very respectful of each other, never saying anything negative about the other parent. But still, I want our family to stay together and that’s not going to happen. And I’m still in shock.
I hope this post helps people to understand that your parents getting divorced is hard at any age, so if you’re going through this, know that your feelings are completely valid. And if you have a friend going through this, please remember: don’t try to downplay how much pain they’re in. Just give them a hug and listen.