We are not shackled to our past, our families do not carry the weight of sculpting everything we will become, but we are no doubt heavily shaped by the experiences we have as children of love, relationships and trust.
I’d be the last to advocate staying together for the children, and if separating has become your final (and often sensible) answer, this is my advice for you.
I was conceived as a “band-aid” baby, intended to cement a relationship that was falling apart. We all know that plasters never fix the cause of the real problem, and when they finally fall off — blackened and tatty — the wound is dirtier than ever before. A colicky baby certainly makes a stable relationship a challenge, let alone a rocky one.
My memories of being a young child are punctuated by shouting and sadness. My parents seemed to live separate lives, bonded together only by anger. I never felt as if they were a team. My dad had his own bedroom, and would rarely come on holidays with us.
The day my mother finally declared that it was enough, my Dad had to walk to the front door with six-year-old me sitting on his foot. As he dragged me along, attempting to pry my fingers from around his thigh, I imagine his heart breaking, along with mine. My poor mother was left with the broken pieces scattered around, like a broken mirror shards that are found buried in a carpet, years after it smashed.
This moment, when my family broke apart irreplaceably, became a pivotable point in my future expectations of men and relationships. It doesn’t matter if they love me, they’ll leave because I’m not enough.
My parents’ separation remained hostile for the next eight years; I grew up a daughter of two households. I always knew I had to create lies to placate each parent. No, of course dad didn’t take me to the pub again. No, of course mum didn’t leave me home alone to go food shopping. As a rather unsophisticated liar, I was often caught, leaving me again in the middle of two adults unable to manage their own sadnesses and anger for the sake of their child.
Their animosity loomed so large for so long, that when my father dropped me home after visiting him, he had to watch me walk up the whole street, rather than walking me to the door. I remember the odd sense of pride I felt when finally both parents agreed he could stand at the bottom of the path instead. There was something so achingly sad about that walk up the street alone, in the no man’s land between both parents. My heart cried for the loss of my dad, but yet only felt truly safe once home again with my mum.
I acknowledge that my parents did the best they could in those tough times. I forgive them for being unable to place my emotional needs above their own. They are human and fallible, just as I am now. However, so much of my childhood sorrow was unnecessary and I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anybody.
Relationships between two adults do not have to last forever. Relationships between two adults who have children should. My parents stopped loving each other and that is OK. What is crucial is that the love for the child dictate the new boundaries that the adults need to establish. Having a child means being willing to put the child first, and when you divorce or separate from the parent of your children, you need to remember that your child deserves to be put first. The child adores you both, and hearing or seeing you bitterly snap back and forth sticks with them long after the rows stop. You may not think they hear, or understand your snide passive aggressive tones, but they usually do.
I had no say in how my parents broke our family down; no chance to say it was too loud, too messy and too sore. No way to articulate that ripping the band-aid off in front of me was unfair, and no way of asking them to stop making me lie. So instead, I’m asking on behalf of your children. You can’t sugarcoat a family breakdown, but you can be honest and open without exposing them to the true rawness of your own broken hearts.
Don’t stay together for the kids, but break up softly for them instead.
Also on Huffpost:
Divorce – The Huffington Post