Adult Children of Divorce: An Attorney’s Perspective

Written exclusively for Feeling Barefoot by guest blogger Diana Mercer:

It seems like older children take their parents’ divorce much harder than the younger ones do.  As much as a divorce rocks the world of a child under 12 years old, mostly these kids are resilient and they adapt to the change in circumstances.  And the younger they are, the better they adapt.

For the babies of divorce, two houses is the only world they’ve ever known.

And as sad as that is, my heart really aches for the older children, or adult children, of divorce. 

Here’s what I’ve seen happen to older kids in my 23 years as a divorce lawyer and mediator:

  • Children choosing sides on their own---or being encouraged to choose sides by one or both parents, and becoming completely estranged, sometimes permanently
  • Having to “parent” their parents and grow up too fast. Parents start to rely on their kids to be their best friends and confidantes in a way that isn’t appropriate.  The children literally take over the role of the former spouse (sometimes even sexually)
  • Struggling with their own relationships because the relationship they thought their parents had turns out to be a sham and now they don’t know what a successful relationship looks like
  • Languishing in school because they aren’t at either house long enough for either parent to enforce homework rules and study habits
  • Being left too much on their own while parents work or date
  • Feeling weird that parents are dating when they’re coming into their own sexual maturity
  • Being assured that their college education was going to be paid for…at least partly…….but so much money was spent in the divorce their college fund is gone.  So instead of Northwestern, they’re now headed to community college and living at home
  • Asked to be happy for their parents when they find new partners, and asked to adapt too quickly to new step families
  • Having to adjust to a series of step families as their parents jump from relationship to relationship. The divorce rate in the US is about 50% for first marriages….and 75% for second marriages, and even higher for third and fourth marriages, particularly when children are involved
  • A general failure to launch…..just not quite growing up.  The irony of this issue is that it’s often the “good” kids who “adapted well” to the divorce at the time who turn up with problems later.  The kids who acted out during the divorce actually get their parents’ attention and their issues get addressed. The kid who keeps up his grades and never smokes cigarettes is the one who’s turn to flounder will come later on.

I saw little or none of this with younger children.  

The one major problem I did see with the younger ones happened in extreme circumstances, what people are now calling Parental Alienation, and that the psychology community is just now deciding whether it’s an actual “syndrome” or not.  Parental alienation happens when one parent completely brainwashes a child against the other parent.  That’s not to say that the second parent had no role in the process; after all, if the parental relationship was where it should have been the brainwashing was much less likely to work.  But it happens to younger kids sometimes because they are…..younger.  They don’t have as strong a bond with one parent as they might have had if they were 10 years older.

But the older kids are old enough to have a say in their parent-child relationship, even if they have to sneak away to be with the other parent, as a friend of mine did when we were teens.

So what happens to the older kids is even more heartbreaking, because there’s less time and opportunity for repair.  If you’re older and out of the house, you don’t have teachers and guidance counselors looking over your shoulder. You don’t see your folks every day.  You’re busy with college or culinary school or work and unless you’re really fumbling nobody suggests you talk to a therapist.

So the older kids get lost.  That’s just my opinion.  I’m not a research scientist but I’ve seen enough of it to know there’s a pattern. A very unfortunate pattern.

My favorite book on the subject:  We’re Still Family:  What Grown Children Have to Say about their Parents’ Divorce by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D. (Perennial Currents/Harper Collins 2004) 

Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010) and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work


House for Sale

 Part One of this Story

It kills me to think that the couple tentatively placing a bid on our house will pull the Realtor aside to ask why the house is for sale and the Realtor will look to either side, move a bit close, and whisper in a hush hush voice, "messy divorce."

It makes me hate the Realtor.

Eight months ago, Dad moved out.  I heard the version where he wanted to move out and get on with his life, and the version where Mom just wanted him out of the house already and a few subversion of those stories, and to be honest, I'm not sure what is the truth, if there is a truth, and have given up any hope of understanding.

Mom has been living in the house on her own.  

As a couple, my parents seemed to be doing just fine financially.  Separated, they are not.  I watch them both cut down on expenses, things that they decided they don't really need.  It breaks my heart.  Mom gets her nails done less often, which is fine, she tried to color her graying roots in our bathroom, which was messy, and she switched our cable provider for a better deal, understandable.  Oh, right, and she has also decided to sell the house.

I lived on my own in three various dorms and two apartments.  I have moved the entirety of my belongings, my property, nine times.  Still, my home, the place of return no matter where my property relocates, has been the same since I was born.  Our family never moved.  Things changed within the house, Mom redid the bathrooms, cat died, new kitten made a mess, backyard deck was extended, carpets were ripped up and wood floors redone, but the house itself remained.  Dad moved out, which was strange, but house stayed the same.

My Mom told me that she is ready to sell the house.  I know what she means.  It is something she has to do and she has enough energy to proceed.  It is not so much about starting somewhere fresh and new, moving on from a past life that is no longer.  This is a valid rational, but I know that it is hardly the reason.  Financially, she cannot stay.  I know she would stay if she could, if only for the sake of her children, but she can't.  I have lived in my own apartment afforded by my monthly salary, I understand.  Still, it is hard.  It is yet another change. 

Brother was upset, I was not.  My thoughts are upset, but my heart doesn't care and I don't know why.  At first, I thought I had accepted reality.  I didn't get upset, angry or depressed, I simply accepted the fact that my house was up for sale.  Then again, how can you really differentiate acceptance from denial? 

My mind is playing tricks on me.

Heart:  I don't want to think about it.

Brain:  Don't think about it, just let it happen.  If you think about it and get upset, it's another thing to deal with.

Heart:  I'm not upset, I'm not even shocked, I knew this would happen.  It's no surprise.  No shock, no feelings, all is good.

Brain:  Logically, there is nothing I can do about it, so what is the use in letting it bother me?

Heart:  I am BROKEN.  Nothing can upset me anymore.

Maybe my heart is disconnected from reality as a way to help me cope.  Maybe my brain is being logical.  Denial sounds negative, acceptance sounds positive, but really, what is the difference?  Denial is the beginning, acceptance is the end.  I am not in denial, I am numb.  I am tired.  I am worn out.  For now, I think I am okay with saying goodbye to my house.  Then again, I said Au Revoir to my home long ago.

Two weeks later the papers were drawn up, a draft sale agreement between my parents and the new owners.  My house was sold.  


The moment I heard the words, "Your Mother and I are getting divorced," my heart skipped a beat.  It skipped a few, I am sure of it.  It was the last thing in the entire world that I was expecting  to hear and I was totally unprepared to grasp its true meaning.  I didn't scream, I didn't cry, I stayed silent.

I was in shock.  My body sat still but my heart was overloaded with emotion.  Soon after, I entered into a stage of grief know as Denial.  Although, at the time, it didn't seem like denial because my relatively tranquil life was suddenly exploding with unknowns.

Denial went something like this:

This can't be happening, not to me.  Not to my family.  Maybe my parents didn't have the perfect marriage, but nothing terrible enough to merit divorce.  

My Dad is simply having a mid-life crisis.  He is crying out for help.  He is having crazy thoughts but he will come down to earth eventually.  He will realize that divorce is a huge mistake, I am positive.

My Mom will figure out a way to fix this situation.  She can't be weak now, I won't let her, and together we will overcome these setbacks and create an even better family.

No, this is just a rough patch in life, but everything will turn out okay.  My parents will be fine.  Better than fine.  Now that everything is out in the open, all their marital issues, everything that was held back for lack of communication over the years will help them develop an even healthier and happier marriage.  So really, this is a good thing. 

If I analyze the situation enough, rip every little detail to shreds and piece it back together coherently, my parents will see something they hadn't seen before and fall in love again.

I fought the idea with my head hoping that I could will the situation away if only I squeezed my brain hard enough.  My head was spinning in search of a solution.  I was supposed to let my parents work out their own issues but I couldn’t control the urge to somehow find a way to take control of the situation and mend my broken family back together.  I thought my parents just needed help.  I felt sorry for them.  Although, this all changed.  As each week passed and my parents remained en route to divorce, I began to feel something uglier.  I exited the land of denial and felt for the first time in my life, intense and uncontrollable anger.


The Feeling Super Barefoot Forum

There is one thing I am certain of when it comes to being an Adult Child of Divorce.  

When you realize that there really are other people out there who also have ALL these emotions, imagine the same outrageous thoughts, feel the wrath of itchy skin, get very heavy boots, fill buckets of tears, imagine crashing cars into trees, are tempted into throwing dishes, sob to no one in public bathroom stalls, take their anger out on cuddly bunny rabbits and become mini-monsters, have lost the meaning of trust, have found the meaning of anger and have questioned the very essence of life, you actually start to feel a little better.

I guess it's good to know we're not alone.  I thought I was alone, and a lunatic, but now I know I'm not.  I say, what better way to learn this for yourself than to cyber-forum-discuss it with complete strangers from around the globe?  Exactly!  Once again, my geniusness will better the world.

I hope this forum will give readers a chance to talk about the issues that they choose, instead of leaving it to me to ramble on about my horribly wretched life.  Not to worry though, I will still be bantering on about Me Me Me on my home page, but this is your chance to talk about you.   

Welcome to my Feeling Super Barefoot Forum! 


Letter to my Readers

Dear Readers,

I woke up this morning and decided to end this blog.  I tried to call my Brother, who has supported and encouraged me to keep writing since day one, but he had to go to some infinite-variable-organic-rocket-science-genius-only Math class.  He did not have time to discuss the lifespan of my blog.  I am still a little peeved by this but I guess school comes first.  Anyhow, he will be rich no doubt and I will live in his garage and play my drums with my invisible band and write on my blog all day.  

By lunch, I decided I was helping millions and could not betray all my loyal readers.  Also, I got comments today, which I love, and I felt oh so popular.  

I tried to talk the dilemma over with my boyfriend but he was super busy today reviewing engineering diagrams in search of some mystical form of alternative energy to prevent the next apocalypse.  I started to make a Pro and Con list but decided to watch It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia instead.  

By 5pm I came to the realization that no one cares about my blog-dilemma and that they never read my blog in the first place.  (Other than my Brother.) I went so far as to start a new blog about happy silly things.  I made a link to that blog in the previous post.  I know you didn't take the time to visit it because there is a stat counter.  I am a little peeved about that too, but no use harping on that now.

I know this is not the professional way to have a breakdown about my blog, but I am at wits end.  Is this blog worth my time?  Does this blog scream, "Get yourself some therapy asap."  I am confused about the tone of my blog, is it sad, funny, cynical, LOL-worthy?  Am I making a mockery of my own misery?  What was I thinking the day I started this place.  This may be my last post. And yes, that is a threat.  But joking, sort of.

Oh, and my name isn't Rev.  It's Tali.


The Day My Parents Created a Mini-Monster

I'm not quoting my parents but this is how I remember it. I could have made it up, it's been a while.

In your comments, please tell me if I should submit this post to the MoMa for review.  Also, please be honest because if you encourage and I am rejected I will blame you, find you, follow you around in public and when you least expect it, scream ABUSE, slap you in the face and run away. Wink Emoticon.

RSVP Miley Cyrus

It's become habit to enter "walking on eggshellz," "acod," etc., on Google in search of my blog.  I do it all the time.  I seldom find my blog before page twenty something of the search engine's results, but today I found something else.  I found a People Magazine article racking up revenue from Miley's misery and possible Facebook Status Update to "ACOD."  I really don't know anything about Miley Cyrus, although I now know that Trish allegedly cheated on Billy Ray. Skank.  Whatever, I won't judge, but People Magazine will and lucky for them they make a boatload of cash from publicizing this tentative divorce.  They are going to hell with their millions.

I wonder if Miley is as disappointed as I was with Google's lack of ACOD resources.  How many times a day does she search for way to cope with her parents' divorce?  People Magazine reports that she is not taking sides (kudos Miley, but we all know that isn't possible) and that she "has been upset recently."  Understatement of the century, unless she has a heart of coal.  She might, I don't know her.

Anyhow, I wonder if she will search the term ACOD and stumble upon my blog.  That would be pretty sweet.  I would trade one thousand hits from around the globe for Miley's subscription to my feed.  Sorry guys.  I don't know the first thing about her but I am mesmerized by her fame.  I'm a groupie at heart and it doesn't matter what your talent, or lack thereof according to the Hannah Montana Haters Club.

Miley, if your reading this, divorce sucks.  Also, please RSVP.

The Death of a Marriage

My brother suggested that the four of us see a therapist together, a family session.  His thought was that it was as important as ever to keep all lines of communication open between all of us.  Brilliant. 

Four days later, sitting together for the first time since the “meet divorce” family meeting, we waited to be therapyized.  Truthfully, I respect this particular therapist for agreeing to see us considering it wasn’t the norm.  I can imagine that it is hard to handle one suffering patient, imagine handling four.

A lot happened during that meeting, yet there is one part that stayed with me for a long time.  Towards the end of our session, the therapist recalled a moment she had during a previous one.  She told us about one recently divorced patient who felt she was grieving a death, although no one had died.  She wanted time to mourn.  The patient had experienced the pain of losing a loved one, perhaps a parent, and every year she lit a candle of remembrance.  This year, she imagined lighting that candle for her family.  The end of a marriage is like the death of a marriage. 

Her story stayed with me because the idea of a loss means that grieving and mourning happen genuinely.  It’s not just the loss of a marriage, but of the glorified past and lastly the whole notion of a family unit itself.  All those things were lost.  What she said legitimized those feelings of deep pain and emotions.

I listened; I watched my father lose patience.  At that moment, I was angry with the therapist for associating our situation with the pain of death; something I knew would set my dad off.  My brother, mother and I felt the pain of immediate loss and shock; my dad did not.  He constantly downplayed the significance of his decision and said we were overreacting. He hadn’t said much during the session and I was happy my dad agreed to see a therapist to begin with.  What was she doing?!  She was losing him for sure.  As she concluded her story, it was clear she had made the mistake of telling it at all. 

My dad disagreed calmly, as I knew he would, and said that the divorce was not at all like the tragedy of a death.  Even if it was, he felt that our situation was different than the typical “divorce.”  He couldn’t live in the same house as my mother anymore; it was that simple and had nothing to do with my brother and me.  In fact, my brother and I were his greatest joy.  I was a college grad pursuing a career in law and my brother was a Computer Science major at a top University, he was proud of our accomplishments.  As parents, him and my mother raised us in nurturing environment full of love and mutual respect for one another.  My parents were leaders in the community and had worked together to help with charity events as well as people close to us overcome tough times.  Our family was special, always there for one another.

Divorce was simply a transition like any other, not a death of the family.  He spoke about the positives in our lives, the good times my family had, and emphasized why there was no connection to death.  He defended the “good family.”  We were not raised in a broken home, but a home that valued family first.  Although the divorce would be a change for my brother and I, we were fortunate to have had a wonderful family life growing up and it was important for us to remember that. 

As he finished speaking, I felt my brother’s presence sitting next to me on the couch and wondered if he felt as heavy as I did.  We were silent.  We waited for the therapist to respond.  The therapist listened to my father, looked at him and replied, “I’d like to point out, for the past few minutes you have been speaking in the past tense.”


Bucket of Tears

How many buckets have I filled with tears for my family? Countless.  At first, it seemed I was crying more than not.  I cried the moment I woke up, I teared my entire commute to work, faced the window and wiped the tears away before others could see, I held my cry deep down for as long as I could in the office and when I couldn't hold it any longer, I cried in the handicap bathroom stall, I teared the entire way home from work, crawled into bed, and let myself sob as loud as I could because finally, finally, there was no one around to hear me cry.  I cried to no one.  I cried to someone.  I cried for nothing and I cried for everything.  I cried and found that I felt no better when I was finished crying, the way I sometimes do when I am stressed about the little things in life and just need a big cry to let the tension out.  I wasn't finished crying but my eyes had dried up and could no longer produce tears.  I cried inside without actually crying because my eyes could not produce my tears.  Good thing, I was running low on Kleenex.  I did what I could before it was time for bed, before I could retire in peace for some time.  I watched TV, stared at the ceiling, drowned myself in circular thinking, and drifted asleep.  I slept and I cried in my dreams.

With time, I cried less.  Still, I cried easily.  Hearing the "D" word when I least expected brought more tears.  Seeing intact families  in all their happiness made me sob.  I cried less but I was fragile, and almost anything seemed to rattle my calm.

A day would pass without my tears and it seemed strange.  Three days would pass without my tears and I would wait for the tears to return, as I knew they would.  With time, they visited less often.

Eventually, the crying stopped.

I write these words to let you know that I was there, I was filling buckets with tears.  I also want to let you know that the crying will subside.

It is okay to cry.  It is okay to let your parents see you cry.  It is okay to let your friends see you cry.  It is okay to let your children see you cry.  It is okay to cry in a public place surrounded by people you will never see again.  It is okay to cry alone.

How many buckets have I filled with tears for my family? Countless. Yet, one year later, I am okay.  You won't cry forever.  Eventually, your tears will let go and move on.

Deepest Sympathies On the Divorce of Your Parents

An associate at work asked me why I looked like I was about to cry.  She said I seemed out of it.  I hadn’t told anyone at work and no one seemed to notice that I was in a state of grief, mayhem and constantly on the verge of tears.  My parents’ divorce was not something to be discussed at work.  Business is business I guess.  Although, the new reality that faced my life at home hit me several times a day and interfered with my work completely.  I was able to make it to work and back home, back to bed, wake up and go to work again.  I have no idea what I did at my desk all day, sitting in front of my PC while my head was lost above, wandering a million miles an hour in a state of confusion to nowhere.  No one noticed.  I will call it autopilot, that thing within you that gets your work done without you being 100% there.

My thoughts were consumed with questions about my parents’ divorce and someone had asked me what was wrong.  Finally.  I know I didn’t give anyone a reason to ask me what was going on, I knew it wasn’t the appropriate place to throw my problems at others, it was a place to be professional or take time off, it was a law firm.  I had chosen the course of professionalism, although, I had nowhere else to go.  I guess it was the best option at the time, a reliable and stable place to spend ten hours a day.

I sat across my associate expecting to discuss the specifics of an upcoming trial and mid-conversation she popped the question, “what’s wrong?”  I ask others that same question all the time and expect a simple answer that deals with a headache or a bad day, something trivial.  You never expect the person to open up and flood you with a bucket of, “my life has been derailed, chewed up, spit out, and it hurts like hell.  I am lost. I don’t know what to do or what will become of my life.  I will never be the same person again; I just know it.  I am scared.  I have no one to turn to because my parents have mutated into some species that I can’t recognize any more and there is no one else I can trust.  I am alone. Etc.”

“What’s wrong?”

Without thinking I replied, “my dad left my mom and they are getting divorced.”  Simple and honest, it was my autopilot speaking again.  Phew.  The associate asked, “That’s all?”  I didn’t respond.  She added, “But everyone is going to be okay.”  I kept my reaction to myself and that was the end of our conversation about me.  We continued discussing the case.

She had asked, “That’s all?”  My associate walked over to give me a hug of reassurance and then slipped a stocking on her face and stabbed me in the back. No, my heart.  “That’s all?” As if my answer didn’t account for the devastation in my eyes.  Wait, does it?  My parents’ divorce is so new to me and I don’t understand if I am supposed to feel as crappy as I do.   More confusion, more guilt, more feelings that I am weak.  Get it together!

I don’t remember anyone ever saying, “my deepest sympathies.”  Maybe I only remember the comments that hit me where it hurts, the heart.  Still, one of the realities that an ACOD must face is that “dearest sympathies” are not a given.  There is pain, five stages of grief, confusion, anger, depression, and all the other hardships that accompany any major life-upset, yet there is no bereavement period or leave of absence.  There are no hallmark cards or user-manuals for the people around you to help you cope with this time of chaos and unknowns.

At work, when a family member passes away, the entire office is notified.  Everyone makes this effort to show patience and kindness towards the colleague that is suffering.  This is not the case with an adult child of divorce.  It’s not discussed and most people don’t know.  I wouldn’t want a firm-wide email disclosing my loss.  At the same time, firm-wide patience would have been comforting.

So many times I heard, “it could be worse, you will get over it eventually, go on with your life.”  Yes, I want to go on with my life but right now I am stuck here.  I am sinking. 

I am not asking for pity but a little standard-sympathy would be nice.  Perhaps the kind of sympathy that is just given because that is what you are supposed to do, without even getting too deep into what the loss really entails.  The kind of sympathy that says, “your pain is merited and I’m sorry you have to endure it.”  That seems professional enough.

What do you think?

How to Heal Your Heart When Your Parents Divorce

How to heal your heart when your parents divorce

This is something I asked myself constantly after learning about my parents’ divorce.  I was in shock and soon after, my heart was broken.  It was a vicious cycle of denial, anger, confusion, and false hope.  My insides felt chaotic.

After replaying every detail in search of a solution, I was close to giving up.  Which is what I was supposed to do and what I should have done from the beginning.  Or so they say.  Remember, my determination to make sense of everything around me was in my head.  I was fighting reality with my thoughts as if I could will the situation away by squeezing my brain hard enough.

There was a point when my heart began to grasp that the divorce was actually happening.  I tried to hold onto denial.  I was in the center of some balloon that had inflated around me and I didn’t have a pin to make it POP.  I desired, stronger than any craving or sexual urge I ever felt, to reach forward with a sharp shard of glass and break the skin of this situation into a million little pieces, step over them and walk away.  Leave the little wrinkled pieces of latex behind on a sidewalk for good so that a gust of wind might sweep them up and away, far away.

Letting go was very hard.  Accepting the reality of my family was exhausting.  Eventually, sadness prevailed.  I realized that it was no longer about the divorce; it was about me.  I lost control over myself.  I lost the ability to keep happy, control my mood.  I let myself sink into the couch and into a cushion of grief.  I didn’t want to move.

I had to heal myself first.

I remember the day I decided to take a proactive step towards healing my broken heart.  I imaged a heart broken into two.  Day by day I would work towards completing one stitch until both halves were mended back together.  It required time and effort. 

I decided to write things that would make me happy on a piece of paper and follow through.  I was ready to help myself, or at least try.  It was time. 

I wrote three things on that piece of paper:

Go for a run
Straighten my hair

Really?  Those were the three things that came to mind in an effort to induce a moment of happiness in my heart, a few minutes without pain.   It is easy to forget how terrible I really felt at the time but when I think about the three things I wrote down, I am able to relive the weight of that month.  I must have been miserable.  I think I was.

Baby steps.

I have that piece of paper.  There is no date but I will remember the day always.  I wrote those three tasks down without thinking too much, they felt random.  I wasn't ready for a careless night at some Brooklyn microbrewery and I couldn’t handle walking to SoHo to spoil myself with something pretty. 

In retrospect, my listed tasks point out what a hermit I became.  I stayed inside, had no energy to move and no desire to take care of myself.  I was tired and unmotivated.  I felt down and needed to get out, feel the sun on my face.  Still, it was a struggle to do so.

Sunday morning I put on running shorts.  Although I wore my sneakers around the house for several hours before making it out, eventually I picked up my ipod and made it out the door.  I had been listening to a lot of “you must be depressed” music, mostly Enya, songs I never listened to before.  They seemed to speak to my pain.  Embarrassing, I know.  I also listened to the Black Eyed Peas ask, “Where is the Love?” and it moved me.  But hey, I was vulnerable.  Then again, songs are as sad as the listener.  Not today.  It was time to move on, actually move back, to my running play-list, which was equally shameful, full of techno-trance and Kanye’s “Workout Plan.”  I had to get pumped.

I walked for a long time before my legs set off into that first sprint.  For the first time I felt the truth in all that yoga talk about the connection of mind and body.  My head wanted to run but my legs said no.  Damn legs.  Still, Yoga is not for me.

A few sprints had turned into a jog and just like that, I was running.  It was hard and it didn’t feel great but I kept at it, waiting for that twinge of happiness.  Nothing.  Then something.  It was something out of body and unplanned.  I don’t know what came over me.  I was alone, no one was watching and without any reason at all, I started to skip.  At first it was a slow movement; it felt unnatural.  I was shy.  How many years had passed since I last felt the sensation of skipping?  My legs moved autonomously and it felt good.  I felt light.  I burst into full out skipping, higher and higher, my hands swinging at each side to keep balanced.  How spontaneous!  I was skipping like a little girl.  Eventually, I was out of breath and so I stopped.  I laughed.  I laughed out loud, by myself, without anyone with me.  Without trying super hard to keep happy because deep down I was too sad to smile, I laughed inside and out.  I made myself laugh and it was genuine.

After my shower, I straightened my hair.  I certainly didn’t feel healed, but I felt good.  At least for that moment, I took a vacation from my grief.  

I had completed one stitch to connect the broken pieces of my heart.


ACODs are Adults: What's Your Point?

In the acronym ACOD, the keyword is “adult.”  You’re a grownup.  You can handle it.  Really.
I try to snap out of self-pity constantly because letting myself get emotional is an act of narcissism.  Divorce is about your parents, not you.  Right?


Maybe I am an adult in other ways than you and it so happens that the divorce of my parents was the trigger that shattered my world. Maybe I am not ready to deal with the inner workings of my parents’ divorce, something that a child is shielded from.  Maybe I need time to accept the fact that I have no control over the situation, I can only live with it.  Maybe I need a profound emotional journey to overcome this life event.

I know my parents did not do this to “break up my family,” destroy my perfect world or throw a wrench into Thanksgiving plans.  I don’t think it was “my fault,” and I don’t expect them to stay together on my account.  I try to forget and go on with life, believe me, I desire it more than you and I have no doubt that I will get there.

Divorce is an ugly miserable thing that upends your life, eradicates your daily routine and erases your plans for the future. 

Maybe I’m tired of constantly trying to explain to you why this is a big deal for me.  I don’t mean to come off as a passive-aggressive drama queen and I can’t just snap out of it. 

Maybe you should mind your own business.  I feel guilty enough as is.

Pain is Relative

People feel pain differently.  Over the past three days, I thought about this as I sat in a chair in Mt. Sinai hospital on the Upper East Side.  My mother underwent a two-hour surgery and recovered from the eighth floor overlooking 5th Ave.  I am thankful she got the window bed,  I had a great view to think.

With all the advanced technology that a hospital uses, when it comes to a patient’s pain, they stick to basics.  I learned that every patient feels pain differently, even after the same surgical procedure.  They believe that a patient’s threshold for pain varies based on culture, sex, history and other various reasons.

Each morning, the nurse came in gauge how much pain my mother felt.  The method followed a “pain rating scale,” a universal chart with six faces less detailed than Gchat emoticons.  The chart made me laugh; it seemed ridiculous.  Based on my mother’s facial expression, the nurses managed the dose of her meds.  A chart with six faces, which a kindergartner could draw, determined the dosage of her morphine drip, whether she would get one or two Percocet and if she needed a Valium that day.

Pain is hard to see from the outside.  Hospitals believe that facial expressions are able to portray the level of pain a person feels, but even they are using an archaic method.  I guess it’s the best they can do.  What this method does show, is that there isn’t a way to know how much pain a person is expected to feel after a specific operation.  The hospital is aware that pain is relative to each patient.  All they can do is track the patient’s facial expressions a few times a day to get a feel for how much pain is really there.

Emotional pain is dealt with differently.  It is not as simple as a chart with six faces ranging from “no hurt” to “hurts worst.”  Still, both types of pain are connected in a sense that both are relative to the patient.  The same cause will affect each patient differently.

I wish I realized this a year ago.

Blind Faith

My head was spinning in search of a solution.  The number one rule for any AKOD is to take a step back.  I was supposed to let my parents work out their own issues but I couldn’t control the urge to somehow find a way to take control of the situation and mend my broken family back together.  Alternatively, my brother seemed to accept the situation.  Not to say that he wasn’t devastated by the news, but his approach at first was more “go with the flow.”

We reacted differently, perhaps because I was the older sibling.  Maybe girls think differently or because my brother and I had different personalities.  Growing up, I always pushed for my way without even knowing what my way was.  I always attributed the quality to the normal behavior of a spoiled teenage girl.  I am the more dominant child.  My brother is docile, more laid back by nature.

I asked him how he remained so calm during a time of such chaos.  He seemed to accept the situation without knowing all the pieces to the puzzle or answers to the countless questions that the divorce raised.  By nature, I needed answers: Why?  Was your life that bad?  Is this devastation necessary?

There are many things our parents won’t discuss with us.  Maybe those things are inappropriate; maybe our parents are ashamed of what we will think.  Knowing that I was mature enough to hear the entire situation between my parents (so that I could try to solve something or just simply understand) was driving me crazy.  There were so many unknowns about what really happened, where their marriage really went wrong.  Were there more secrets?

I have been in relationships myself.  I have experienced rejection.  I have replayed every moment of that relationship in my head, looking in retrospect for signs of where it really went wrong.  I have pictured whether a relationship could have been saved if I had just done one thing differently before the connection went cold; before we hit a point of no return.

Imagine the difficulty in replaying an entire relationship that you don’t know the intimacies of.  All I had to work with was my perception of parts of the relationship that I was allowed to see, and I wasn’t even paying all that much attention.  My head was spinning because the relationship I analyzed (and re-analyzed) was not my own, it was that of my parents.

I started to reevaluate each parent through the eyes of a spouse and not just their child.

My brother looked at me and said that he didn’t feel the same as I did, in his heart he trusted that my parents would work the situation out and everything would be okay.  We were their children.  My brother called it blind faith.

Why My Parents' Divorce Broke My Heart

In the past, my mother, father and brother, were always the three people who had seen me through tough times.  Without feeling that my pride was compromised, I could always count on family support.  After our family meeting, which revealed the biggest change in my life, our lives, they were the three people who shared that exact experience with me.  I have friends who tried to relate their own stories to mine, and friends of friends who hoped to do the same, but a divorce is such a complicated and emotional situation that their stories did not impact me.  I felt alone.  Looking back, feeling alone after learning about the divorce makes sense because the three people who had seen me through tough times in the past, the ones who might possibly understand, were now all involved parties.  The family dynamics were jolted by new conflicts of interest.  Each member of my family went through the same event, the same divorce, but felt different emotions and saw the event through a unique perspective.  We were all fragile for the same reason and still we were not on the same page, at all.  My mother was pained in a different way than my brother. 

My brother and I tried to make sense of what was going on and grew aggravated with each other when we disagreed about aspects of the situation.  I never felt so distanced from my own brother before and, at the same time, I never needed him like I did during that time.  I am four years older than my brother, who was a sophomore in college and living in the frat at the time, it makes sense that brother saw the situation differently than me. 

I grew up with a family who usually saw eye-to-eye on things. Suddenly, the assurance of family support was compromised by thoughts of mistrust and disagreements over matters that were close to each of our hearts.  I felt obligated to hold my true feelings back but my heart was screaming constantly.

It was if there was a pink elephant in the house and we were all walking on eggshells.

There is a reason that, gut feeling, my parents’ separation felt like a much bigger deal than just a change of where each parent would eventually sleep.  It changed each relationship in my family.  My relationship with each individual, brother, father and mother, felt broken and new.  I lost the free and open conversation that I always had at home and that, in fact, is a very big deal.