11 Positive Lessons I Learned From My Parents' Divorce
Divorce is miserable. There is absolutely no way to sugarcoat it, or act as though it is remotely enjoyable. However, in the wake of a traumatic experience such as this, you often gain a greater understanding of God’s provision, presence, and peace — amidst an otherwise unsettling time.
My parents got divorced four years ago, which has given me ample time to reflect, (mostly) recover, and re-adjust to the dynamic changes that occurred as a result. I am neither perfect nor a professional on the subject, but going through a divorce has made me at least a little more aware of the realities of this messy and often-avoided topic. I am thankful I can now at least offer a few words of wisdom to anyone going through it.
Without going into the mundane details of my parents’ divorce, I will explain a handful of the lessons I learned during and after it happened. When it comes to divorce, each person has a different story, set of circumstances, and end results, so I realize that many of these lessons may not apply to everyone. There is no black-and-white answer for navigating through something as complex as divorce (or relationships in general). But maybe, just maybe — there is something here that can either help you or someone you know, or simply encourage you as you are processing a difficult life experience.
1. It doesn’t matter what other people think.
Let’s just get this one out of the way. Divorce is frowned upon — especially in the church — no matter what the circumstances are. So there is an immediate unspoken disapproval conveyed whenever the subject comes up. If I experienced that as a second-hand participant, I cannot even imagine the scrutiny my parents endured in their circles, which primarily includes Christians or people of faith. For them, rumors start flying, friendships are lost, and people are quick to judge. In order to survive, everyone involved has to stop worrying about what other people are thinking. They do not know the innermost details or the whole picture, nor do they have the right to insert themselves into the situation. Side Note: I do, however, believe that there is a need for a godly Christian counselor to guide the couple through this mess, attempting to repair any damage or save the marriage entirely. In addition to close friends and family members, their opinion does in fact hold weight.
2. It isn’t easy just because you’re an adult child.
Many assume that it must be a walk in the park just because you were 20+ years old when your parents got divorced as opposed to 8 or 14 years old. While (I assume) there are added challenges of going through divorce at a young age, as so much is uncertain and unknown at that time, it does not mean that being older magically makes divorce simple or manageable. In fact, there are unique challenges that adult children face that young children may not (and vice versa, of course). For example, as a decision-making individual, you have the ability to offend or wrong one of your parents, and you are ultimately held responsible. I was very bitter towards one of my parents in the beginning stages of the divorce, and they can’t just “let it slide” because I was throwing a fit, although they did extend a massive amount of grace towards me. This can add additional stress, as you try to ensure you are handling everything with grace and maturity.
3. You don’t have to choose a “side.”
Along those lines, don’t feel like you must choose a side. This may be one of the most tempting options, as each party attempts to advocate for themselves, constantly telling their side to the story. Try as hard as you can to support both, and steer your conversations in a positive direction that doesn’t put the other person down. Let me tell you, this is one of the hardest decisions you have to make during the process — to not choose a side. (NOTE: I do understand that there are circumstances that you absolutely have to choose a side, for safety or other serious instances. I am just speaking about my own experience.)
4. You must practice forgiveness.
I learned about the concept of forgiveness my whole life — in church, at school and at home. But it wasn’t until my family went through this that I truly had to work hard to practice it, extending it even when I didn’t want to. Especially when I didn’t want to. When it comes to forgiveness, each family member has their own timeline and way of processing things, so don’t expect everyone to reach the same conclusions you have at the same time. Forgiveness is such a personal and meaningful expression that cannot be forced or manufactured. I know this verse is simple, but I like when the Bible gets straight to the point: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Why would we not extend forgiveness to someone if God, who is perfect in every way, has already forgiven us time and time again?
5. Give yourself (and your family) grace.
Divorce can induce the worst behavior in us all — so it is vital to give yourself, and especially those around you, an extra dose of grace. While I was not a terror of a human being by any means, I certainly had my downer days. Allow yourself to feel an array of emotions, understanding that this is an ongoing process that takes time.
6. It will get easier.
I wouldn’t necessarily bring this up to someone who is in the thick of it, as it is difficult to grasp and frankly, annoying to hear. However, it is true. Something that is so heartbreaking and devastating one day will someday be a little blip on the timeline of your life. Think about the things you were worried about five years ago — even five days ago. They have slowly but surely become more tolerable, less pressing, and oftentimes, completely solved.
7. It’s okay to take a break.
While my parents were getting divorced, I was finishing up my last year of college, in the middle of some relationship drama myself, working 3–4 super-part-time jobs, attempting (failing) to do freelance work here and there, and trying to remember to sleep and eat when I could. This is the definition of trying to fill a schedule when you don’t want to face something head on. It was easier to avoid this traumatic situation when I was constantly moving. However, I ended up giving a small fraction of myself to each of the things I was involved in; I spent less time with friends, was flaky with freelance work, missed classes more than I went to them, hardly went to church, and sprinted from job to job frantically so I wouldn’t be late. If I could give my 21-year-old self any advice, it would be to take a break — to quit half of those jobs, go to class more, avoid freelance, and take some precious time to take care of myself. Thankfully, the healing I avoided eventually caught up with me at a later date, but I believe the process would have been easier if I had taken a moment (or a few months) to slow down.
8. Good will come of this.
Again, this is not something I would immediately tell someone going through a divorce or difficult situation in general. It is usually something you realize down the road, as you look back at all the seemingly bad things God used to create something good. I have clung to Romans 8:28 for as long as I can remember. In fact, I have a ring with that verse inscribed on it; my sister gave it to me at my high school graduation and I haven’t taken it off since. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
My parents each remarried shortly after the divorce. All four of us (well, eight, if you count in-laws) adore our step-parents, and have a tremendous amount of peace knowing our parents are happy, in love, and taken care of. While it is not what we envisioned a decade ago, it is definitely a very good thing. And for that I am thankful. God used a broken situation and turned it into something beautiful.
9. Help others going through the same thing.
I believe one of the main reasons we go through difficult seasons is to turn around and help someone else with a similar problem down the road. I sought advice (or even just a simple “I know, it sucks”) from people with divorced parents, and now I can be that voice to someone else. As I mentioned, I am not perfect nor a professional, but there is something extra valuable about “I’ve been there too” that sometimes counselors don’t have the ability to say.
10. Accept a new normal.
Sure, sometimes I mourn the loss of my parent’s marriage and wish none of this ever happened. That is completely acceptable. I don’t think anyone involved hoped this would happen! However, it is also acceptable to cherish a new way of life, considering it the new “normal.” In other words, when life gives you lemons, make some dang good lemonade.
11. God is your firm rock and foundation.
If this was the only thing on this list, we’d all be okay. Because at the end of the day, God is the one thing that has not and will not change while so much is uncertain, complicated, and in transition. In fact, it is only by God’s grace that my family is still in tact — and doing quite well, remarkably. Lean into Him, pray fervently, read His word, and rely on God to redeem, restore and repair. Those are the only things I knew how to do during this time, and my faith was strengthened considerably as a result. Verses like James 1:2–3 take on a new meaning after life experiences such as this. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”