Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Seeing Your Parents Together...When They're Not.

Can anything prepare you for the first time you see your parents together after their divorce?

I would venture to say no.

I'll never forget the anxiety I experienced the first time I saw my parents together after the divorce. It was at my sister's graduation from law school and I knew it was now or never. My parents had been divorced for over a year at this point and hadn't seen each other in just as long. My husband and I were traveling with my dad and would meet my mom at the graduation (she had the tickets). 

As we approached my mom, I felt incredibly nervous. My palms were sweaty and my heart rate was up. What would my parents say? How would they react to one another? How would I deal with it all? Was it going to be strange the entire time or would I get used to it after a little while? Would I cry? Dear Lord, please do not let me cry in front of all these people.

In the end, my parents were polite and cordial (they even took pictures together with my sister) and while it was definitely awkward, it wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be. Maybe that's because I had spent the past few years preparing for this moment. And maybe, deep down, I knew this was my new reality and I dealt with it as best I could. Either way, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Sad? Absolutely. But horrible? Nope. 

That first meeting also prepared me for my brother's college graduation a year later, when the entire family of five was together for the very first time in three years. We took pictures, we exchanged a few laughs, and then everyone went their separate ways. But nothing can change the sadness I felt and will continue to feel every time I see my parents together in the future. Having my whole family in one place brought back tons of memories for me. And it made me sad to think the five of us will never share those memories as a unit again. Yes, we'll make new ones. But it won't be the same.

I recognize that for some of you, this first meeting is still in the distant future. Maybe your parents just announced their divorce or maybe they're going through the process now and you can't imagine that they'll ever be able to be in the same room again. Shockingly, they will. And everyone will survive. Trust me. 

And if you're reading this and you know you'll be seeing your parents together soon, here's my advice: breathe. Know that you will get through it. You're stronger than you realize. After all, your parents got divorced and you're still standing, right? 

Right. You got this.

For those of you who experienced the dreaded first meeting, I'd love to hear your stories. How did you handle it? Were your parents civil to one another? What advice would you give to ACODs preparing to see their parents together for the first time after the divorce?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Grieving in Circles

The funny thing about grief when you're an ACOD is that it never seems to end. It just goes around and around... and when you think you've conquered the pain, there it is again.

You're grieving in circles.

Brooke Lea Foster said it best in her book "The Way They Were" (one of my favorite books specifically for ACODs. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should). The thing about grieving your parents' divorce is that it's a lifetime process. You may overcome one set of issues, but then a whole new set of issues appears. Maybe you've gotten accustomed to your parents' divorce but then one (or both) remarries. And suddenly there's a new face in the family and life is back to being surreal again. I felt this way when my mom remarried earlier this year (another topic for another post).

There are some who don't think the aftermath of a parents' divorce should be classified as grief. After all, no one died, right? 

Wrong. Something did die - a family unit. 

I'm not making light of those who have experienced death in their family. That's a whole different sort of grief and one that cannot (or should not) be compared to a parents' divorce. But to say ACODs aren't grieving is completely false. We grieve for what our family once was. We grieve for our parents' love - the love that we were borne out of. We grieve for some sense of normalcy, because as we all know, when parents divorce normalcy goes out the window (I like to call it the divorce crazies). Much of our grief doesn't actually stem from the divorce itself - it stems from the fact that nothing is as it once was. And despite the fact that we had no control over the situation, it will impact the rest of our lives.

Where am I going with this? I want all ACODs to know that it's okay to grieve. You need to grieve in order to move forward. If you're going through a parents' divorce right now and you feel silly for crying, being dramatic, acting childish, etc. - don't. It's your family to grieve and no one else's. And even though the grief may go around in circles and appear at times when you least expect, remember that grief is what makes us human. And the only way out is through.

How have you dealt with the grief of your parents' divorce? Or grief over another lost relationship in your life? Share your tips by leaving a comment below. If you don't want to leave a comment but want to talk privately, email me at acod16@gmail.com.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What People Say

If there's one thing I've learned in my 28 years here on earth, it's that people will always have an opinion about something. And divorce is certainly no exception. As an ACOD, I have been on the receiving end of many rude comments. Here's a sampling:

"You're an adult, so you need to support your parents."
"You don't live at home anymore so this won't affect you as much."
"At least your family was together for so many years."

That last one's the real kicker. If anything, that's what makes the whole process so much more painful. People don't understand that ACODs are grieving a loss of their family. The loss of family rituals. The loss of their foundation. So who's job is it to clue them in?

Not yours.

Let's face it: you're dealing with a lot right now. And the last thing you need is to be held accountable for the emotions you're feeling as a result of your parents' divorce. My suggestion? Just leave it alone. Don't respond and don't engage them in a debate or argument. Neither side will win and it will only make you more frustrated. Not to mention, it'll deter you from dealing with the real issue at hand: your parents' divorce.

So the next time someone says something insensitive, just ignore it. And if you can't ignore it, let them know that while you respect their opinion, they don't understand what you're going through. Leave it at that.

Remember: they feel uncomfortable too. They're trying to find the right words to say and unfortunately, that means sometimes saying the wrong ones. Cut them a break. It doesn't mean you have to sit and listen to them, but recognize whether their intentions are good and they're just going about things the wrong way. If their intentions aren't good, then stay far, far away.

Got any tips for handling rude or insensitive comments? Leave a note below or shoot me an email at acod16@gmail.com.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Nothing can prepare you for the moment your parents tell you they're separating or getting divorced. Even if you know things between them aren't going well, it's still a completely different experience to hear the words.

We're getting a divorce.

When I heard those words, I also heard this:

We're breaking up the family you've been apart of for 20+ years. Your life will never be the same.

It was absolutely devastating. Even though I knew my parents were unhappy, I still thought life would continue on as it always had. I never actually thought they'd get divorced, especially since they had been together for so long (now I know there is no expiration date for divorce risk).

So how do you react after the words have been spoken? How do you take that first step over the threshold into your new life - a life you didn't ask for?

The answer is...there is no right answer.

All situations are different. We're all going to experience different emotions. Sadness, anger, depression, grief, you name it. And sometimes we experience all of those emotions at once. 

And you know what? That's okay.

The important thing is to let yourself feel what you're doing to feel. Don't try to censor your emotions. Because we're adults, people may expect us to pull ourselves together and act like the news isn't completely devastating. We may be expected to jump immediately on board with this life-changing decision, but who can really do that? After living 20+ years with your family of origin, it's very difficult to suddenly switch gears and start thinking about a new way of life.

These new changes are overwhelming and it's going to take time to process it all. Maybe even years. And you've got to be patient with yourself throughout the process. Surround yourself with people you can lean on and who will support you. Seek counseling. Do what you have to do for you. While it may not seem like it, now is the time to be selfish and focus on getting through one of the most difficult times you may ever face.

With time, you'll begin to see that it is possible to move forward. That it's possible to be happy. And most importantly, you'll realize:

There is life after a parents' divorce.

How did you handle your parents' announcement that they were getting divorced? What tips do you have for other ACODs out there? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at acod16@gmail.com.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When People Just Don't Understand

I came across an article in the Huffington Post yesterday and was struck by several things the author said about divorce and the "lessons" children of divorce learn:

It's okay to "fall out of love" with someone. It's not the end of the world if two people don't get along.

My take: Love is certainly complicated and it may be true that some people fall out of love with one another, but marriage should be forever. Love is an emotion that fluctuates from day to day. Choosing to end a family brings about serious repercussions that cause hurt and pain among all family members involved. I recognize there are certain circumstances that bring about a divorce, but it shouldn't be the first option.

You learn how to accept and love the new people who are suddenly a permanent part of your life. 

My take: I'm sure there are ACODs who have embraced a parent's spouse wholeheartedly. And there may be some who took awhile to warm up to that individual. But I'd be willing to bet that most of us feel a sense of resentment about someone new entering the family, especially when we're older. We've had our family intact for a long time, so any change is jarring. Nothing can prepare an ACOD for the emotions he or she will experience when seeing a parent enter a romantic relationship with someone else. Remarriage is a whole other topic (one which I will address in a future blog post).

You get the chance to see the real personality and traits of your parents.

My take: For many ACODs, this is not a good thing. Divorce tends to bring out the worst in people and many of us have had to watch our parents fight with one another, say nasty things behind each other's backs, you name it. It's not easy to watch the two people who brought you into the world turn against each other. In time, we may start to see the positives in our parents' personalities as things level out and they find a new identity, but that often takes many years. Especially if our parents have been married a long time.

Bottom line: no one truly understands what it's like to be an ACOD - not even fellow ACODs.

It's not easy to watch your family fall apart and those who think ACODs have it easier than those who experienced a parents' divorce as a young child are very misguided. If anything, ACODs have it harder in some respects (not all) since parents rarely hold back from letting their dirty laundry air in front of adult children. We see and hear it all and are then told to suck it up and support our parents.

But you know what? It's okay to feel sad. It's okay to be angry. There is no rulebook for how to deal with a parents' divorce and our emotions are valid. Those who tell you any differently aren't people you should be listening to.

Have you dealt with people who just don't understand what you're going through? If so, how did you respond? Leave a comment below or send me an email at acod16@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Giving up Control

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Ahh, control. A word many of us ACODs are familiar with. Simply because that's what we lose when our parents get divorced.

As I watched my parents' marriage disintegrate, I remember feeling an extreme sense of loss. A loss over the fact that my family of origin would never be the same. But my sense of loss was also attributed to the fact that something awful was happening to my family, something that would have a lasting impact on my life, and I had zero control.

I remember thinking, it would be so much easier if I had been the cause of these problems. Because then I could apologize and we could all move on. It's taken me years to realize that the problems existed from the beginning and there was nothing I could have done differently.

Yet for some reason, us ACODs feel a sense of guilt, don't we? It manifests itself in different ways, but it's there nonetheless. A guilt that we just can't shake, even though we know we're not in the wrong. I felt guilty for not wanting to be around my parents very much in the beginning. I felt guilty because they were hurting, rather than paying attention to my own pain and taking steps to heal from it.

Finally, it dawned on me: I can't control my parents or their actions. 
I can only control how I choose to respond to them.

I had spent so much time trying to control what was happening, trying to talk sense into my parents, you name it. It didn't make a difference what I did and it only left me feeling more frustrated and in greater pain than before. When I learned to stay out of the situation and focus on what I could control, which was myself, I started to see positive differences.

But that doesn't mean it comes easily. I still have to force myself not to get worked up over something related to my parents' divorce. I have to force myself to focus on my own life with my husband. As a stereotypical type-A oldest child, it's extremely hard for me to give up that control. But what other choice do I have? The other road will only bring me greater pain.

To all you ACODs out there: I hope that you'll find the strength to give up control of your family's situation and focus on the things in life you do have control over. You'll never stop caring or worrying about your parents (after all, they did give you life), but you can set boundaries so that you don't get dragged into their problems. You can control how you respond (or not respond) to their actions. 

I'll leave you with this:

Have you been able to give up control in your parents' divorce? If so, how did you get to that point?

If you want to chat about your experiences or need a listening ear, email me at acod16@gmail.com.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Four Years Later...

Four years.

That's how much time has passed since my parents' separation (their divorce came a little later than that). The reason why I remember that it's been four years is because my parents separated soon after my own wedding and my four-year wedding anniversary is quickly approaching.

You may be asking, has much changed in four years?

My answer? Yes...and no.

Well, that's not really much of an answer.

It may seem like it isn't, but trust me, there's a lot more to it than that. And I'm here to tell you about it.

I started this blog about three and a half years ago, right as I was truly beginning to process my parents' separation and eventual divorce. It was painful. And very raw. I put myself in a vulnerable place. And you know what I got in return?

A community of ACODs (adult children of divorce) just like me.

(yes, there's actually a term for us - see?)

It comforted me to know I wasn't alone - that I wasn't the only young adult going through this terrible journey. And it's that same community that has brought me back to the blogging world once more. 

There's another very important reason I've returned to blogging. After four years, there are still very few resources for adult children of divorce. A simple Google search will reveal that. And that's not okay. We need more resources and support. After all, this problem is only growing. Divorce later in life is becoming a trend. In fact, they actually put a label on it: gray divorce

Which means there are a growing number of ACODs left to pick up the pieces.

So I'm back. And with some new perspectives (four years of dealing with your parents' breakup will do that to you). But one thing hasn't changed: it still sucks to be an ACOD. 

If you're reading this blog and thinking, but I'm not an ACOD that's okay. You've most likely dealt with a relationship (family, spouse, friend) that hasn't gone the way you expected. Or a loss of that relationship. A theme we can all relate to.

One last thing:

My goal is for this blog to serve as a resource and a support for others going through similar situations. I want others to feel free to share their thoughts here, anonymously or not. That's why you'll see a chat box on the right side of the page. Feel free to ask any question, answer a question, vent, you name it. 

And if you don't feel like leaving a comment on the blog but want to chat, you can always email me at acod16@gmail.com. I'm checking my email regularly now and would love to respond to your message and share my thoughts. Or just listen - sometimes we need that too.

So with that, here we are. As any ACOD knows, it's a wild ride with no guidebook or freshly paved trail in sight. But it's a journey and we're in it together. 

And that counts for something.


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