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Guest post: Why is divorce a dirty word?

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: 

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.


About Mediocre Mom

I am a wife to the man who was made for me, and mom to three amazing girls: Punkin is eight, Goo is four, and Smush is two. I'm a Christian, a science geek, and completely addicted to coffee. Trying to stay sane one day at a time. Lowering the bar for moms everywhere.

10 responses »

  1. Oh I love this. I am not from a broken home either and I am currently married (although there are certainly days it’s only by the grace of God;). So some might say my opinion is meaningless as I have no experience personally. But I think your thoughts are wonderful. Divorce is painful and has an unavoidable impact on children- that’s a face and indisputable. But why does it have to be the final chapter in the story of their lives? Why can’t it simply be ONE chapter in a long and beautiful story that will unfold with highs and lows and joy and pain? EVERYTHING we experience shapes us and adds to our story- why does divorce carry so much weight in that. I have seen so many beautiful blended families where divorced parents work hard to work together and new parents dance the delicate line with grace. THOSE are the stories we should tell kids so they can see these parents as heros and themselves as blessed even in hardship, rather than victims.

    Beautifully written by someone living in the trenches- thank you.

    • “And view changes as opportunities, not obstacles.”
      Well said. I don’t have much first hand experience with being married or divorced, but I thoroughly enjoyed the theme of your post. Well, the theme I got from it. And that’s what I posted up top.

  2. This! Oh, this is perfect! It is basically what I have been trying to tell my siblings for over a decade. I’m living proof that divorce doesn’t equal dysfunction, as you so eloquently put it. My parents divorced when I was 12, both remarried relatively quickly, and then my mom divorced and remarried again. Without going into the family drama, suffice to say that if anyone is a target for familial dysfunction, I could probably give them a fair run for their money.

    The step-family that I have now on both sides could not be any closer to me than if they were actual “blood” relatives. We don’t even make the distinction anymore, because, well, we don’t care and it’s no one else’s business, honestly. If you ask me personally, I see very little difference between step-familiy and the in-laws…both are brought into the family by marriage, so why all the ruckus over one and not the other?

  3. Thank you for the thoughtful comments everyone! I appreciate them, and for the opportunity to post these thoughts. Divorces that involve kids are never easy, but I firmly believe we (parents, step-parents, and society) have a responsibility to teach them to make the best out of difficult situations. In life, there are bound to be more than a few challenges. Thanks again for reading!

  4. I think that this is interesting.
    My divorce is a dirty nasty one.
    But, it is teaching my kids the power of self-empowerment, bravery, tenacity and the true meaning of love. I come from divorced parents and I wasn’t a “victim” there – and my kids have seen me blossom and learn how to exist on my own two feet and feel out the world since the start of my divorce. My kids aren’t victims and anyone who even thinks of victimizing them gets an earful from me. They would have been victims of marriage had my marriage not ended. They would have seen what verbal and emotional abuse look like and probably would have suffered their own abuses. They would have seen what it looks like when women have no rights are treated without dignity…that being victimized in your home by an alpha male is OK. My divorce is teaching the lesson of empowerment and respect.

    I guess it is all about perspective. Like I said, my divorce is a dangerous and dirty. BUT – it is empowering and freeing…and I think that one day my kids will appreicate the battle as such as well.

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  9. I agree in theory. But how do you tell your kid that when you are in the middle of a divorce? “Hey, your mom & dad are breaking, but look on the bright side….” I don’t mean to be snide about it, but this is personal. My husband & I just told our kid last week that we are separating and I’m still trying to figure out how to make it easier on her.


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