Can families survive the pain of divorce?
I’m writing this while on holiday with my Mum and Dad. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think, except my Mum and Dad aren’t married. Well, not to each other. They’re married to other people. Nice people, actually.
So when my brother, who lives in Japan, mooted a family reunion – which turned out to be all the more poignant due to recent events – he sent an email to everyone.
Mum and Dad split when I was 19 so, naturally, they’ve had to share a pew at a few weddings and a couple of funerals over the years. But a week-long holiday?
Amazingly, they both said, yes. So there they were, with their respective spouses, both out boogie boarding with the grandchildren and playing cricket on the beach. Mum and my Dad’s wife even stood side by side making salad rolls.
I couldn’t be more proud: proud that they respect each other; proud that they can overcome their discomfort to put their children first; proud that they’ve shown my own children that even after divorce it’s possible to belong to something that, in a loose and modern way, is still a family.
One in three marriages now end in divorce, but as long as the grown-ups are grown up, we are told, then kids are resilient. (To a certain extent, I agree.
There’s nothing noble about parents who stay together and loathe each other. Go, and go swiftly.) But divorce has become so mainstream, so normal, I think we’ve forgotten how painful and profound it can be.
I was at university when my parents split. Old enough and independent enough, you’d expect, to carry on seamlessly with my life.
But, hell, it hurt. The evening I found out, I went to a movie and sobbed silently in the dark. I didn’t feel abandoned, as my husband did when his parents split when he was 11, but who was I if the love that created me no longer existed?
Misguidedly, I sought comfort in Keats.
That first Christmas and many that followed were excruciating. I hated the extended tables of step-siblings and their partners.
You can’t laugh about the time Dad mistakenly ate cat food with people you didn’t grow up with. Especially when Dad’s not there.
My brothers and I left our home town soon after.
Far from being cynical about marriage, each of us married in our early 20s. Were we intent on recreating the family that we lost? Who knows. But fortunately, my brothers’ marriages have not just survived, but thrived.
Mine didn’t. Fifteen years later, divorce is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done, even though there were no children involved.
The flipside of love isn’t hate, I’ve learned, it’s pain. “It hurts so much because it meant so much,” a counsellor told me at the time. “You have to live through it.”
These days, I wonder if divorce does mean that much. Do kids bounce back or do we like to think they do?
The little girl who came for a sleepover at our house shortly after her parents moved in with their new partners seemed OK.
Until I noticed the drawing she’d left on the floor. Under a picture of two people holding hands, she’d written: “My Mum and Dad, together.”
Do grown-ups move on as easily as often appears? A former colleague has written of how she regrets divorcing and is envious of those who stick out the tough times. “No one ever points out,” she says, “that the repercussions of a marital split will reverberate down the timeline of your life forever.”
Yet families can and do survive divorce; My Mum and Dad have shown me that. Last night I even told the cat food story.
Catch Angela on Weekend Today, Sunday mornings on the Nine Network.
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