Today’s post is written by a good friend of mine. We met in college and shared many of the same classes as we were both pursuing degrees in Biology. She is…incredible. She has overcome more in a few decades than many conquer in a lifetime. She found herself an accidental step-mom to three kids when she met and fell in love with her husband, and gained a very different perspective on children from divorced parents. I’m not promoting divorce, but it happens. And children are often involved. Yet even in the most trying, and often painful, circumstances, there are ways to use them to kick life’s butt. She’s kind of an expert at that. You can follow her journey through her blog, Turbulence in the Veins, or follow her on Twitter under the name Christina Z.
Why is divorce a dirty word?
By, Christina Zarrella author of the blog and upcoming memoir Turbulence in the Veins: www.turbulenceintheveins.com
My first confession – I’m not a mom. I’ve never wanted kids, although I’m certainly happy for my friends who do. This has probably been for the best because I’ve spent WAY too much time in therapy, even though I come from an unbroken home. What? That’s right. Divorce is not synonymous with dysfunction. One is perfectly capable of having problems even with married parents. In fact, I didn’t live with my parents from age 16 and even spent time living homeless on the streets of San Francisco, but that’s another story…
Over two and a half years ago, I met a man I normally wouldn’t have dated because he had kids. I was trying to meet new people, and told myself, “It’s just a date – it’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.” You guessed it. I find myself an accidental step-mom to three kids ages 7, 11, and 14. Naturally, I expected some hiccups. What I didn’t expect was that children are conditioned to see themselves as victims. If there’s one life lesson I’ve learned it’s that even if you ARE a victim, a victim mentality will not benefit you. It’s better to be the person who does things (internal locus of control), as opposed to the person things happen to (external locus of control.) As a society, we allow children to believe their lives are fundamentally broken because their parents are divorced. I don’t believe this, although there are certainly plenty of statistics to suggest otherwise. I consider those self-fulfilling prophecies. If we tell children repeatedly they won’t succeed, and that they’re disadvantaged, they’re likely to believe it.
Often, divorce happens because people’s expectations and/or understanding of one another have changed. People constantly grow, gain and lose opinions, hone their knowledge and beliefs, and as a result…change – and not always in ways that complement their partner. (Consider your own friendships, and how these have changed throughout the years.) Sometimes, the reasons why someone wants to leave a marriage are unfair – but this is life. There are no unicorns, mermaids, or Santa Claus either, and it sucks. Those stuck in the middle of a divorce don’t have a choice– they must deal with it. However, coping strategies can be beneficial or damaging (i.e. exercising to deal with stress = good, numbing oneself with alcohol and drugs to deal with stress = bad.)
During a divorce, children are sent to counseling. I’m not sure what they say to these kids, but it’s clear they do not dismantle the fantasy that marriage does not equal a perfect life. Your bank account and weight on a scale don’t equal happiness either, but we’re more comfortable telling kids these facts. Children of divorced parents internalize that they are permanently disadvantaged in life. However, consider the possibility that children of divorced couples go from having only two parents as resources to potentially four, should each parent remarry (nevermind the access to a wider family circle.) Yet we don’t teach kids to see divorce as an opportunity, instead of a loss. Sadly the social stigma of divorce shoved onto kids by society, and sometimes by a bitter biological parent, has become the norm – and it is harmful.
I propose a new way of thinking about children and divorce – one that leads kids to live happier and emotionally healthier lives by giving them the tools they need to deal with adversity as opposed to succumb to it. They key is perspective – will we always tell kids their glasses are half-empty, when these are half-full? Conventional thinking has created a society where no one is ever good enough, thin enough, or rich enough. Let’s get kids to appreciate what they have, versus what they don’t, and view changes as opportunities, not obstacles. Come to think of it, that sounds like pretty good advice for adults too.