The Jigsaw Aftermath

Did you know that depression affects fewer during war than in peacetime?  I know this because I read a study about it.  During war, you rub the sleep from your eyes with a sense of purpose.  You know what you have to do and why.  The larger picture may be frightening, but your day-to-day struggle empowers direction and drive.  You don't have the time to think about what you are worth, or what to do with your life, your focus is keeping alive.  Amid chaos, every single move you make is loaded with meaning.

I survived the hardest year of my life, thus far.  It wasn't the hours I put in at the office, or finding that tiny lump in my chest, it was internalizing my parents’ separation and the self-loathing I experienced as Captain Lieutenant of the ACOD ranks like a General shouting silently but proud about generalizing "adult child of divorce" in some way, one soldier at a time.

Almost immediately after hearing the information and before it was news, I entered into some sort of crisis mode and nothing mattered but the well being of my immediate family.  My job came second, my social life disappeared (I am a hermit), my life-long aspirations were put on hold, and my only goal was to work through the devastation and come out alive. 

My life was drowning in unknowns.I was at war with myself and the background racket echoed like a broken record, not a deafening noise but one could go nuts.  I was confused, I was scared, I began conversing with my loony self and I had no clue what my future would look like.  

Since, I have made some form of peace with the idea.  I stopped fighting reality.  My world was torn apart and I know I have to piece it back together.  I'm ready to pick up the pieces, find my rhythm again.  I am prepared for my transformation back to normal, but I've been at war for so long that I don't remember what normal is supposed to look like.  Surrounded by pieces of what used to be my life, what were my dreams, what made me happy, I am not sure whether those remnants of my past truly belong to me. 

Everything has changed.  But really, nothing has changed.  The cold and ugly reality of it all is that the only thing that has actually changed is me.

I am an ACOD vet without a war to fight.  Left with the aftermath of divorce, I am still drowning in unknowns.  I came out alive, but my survival produced a different person.  Without an emergency to rise to, you have to create goals that have meaning.  The problem being, those things that used to have meaning now seem like insignificant rubble.  I used to question what do to with my life, but now I’m left asking, who am I?

Moving House But Not Moving On

From three bathrooms to one.  No washer-dryer.  No back yard.  No separate bedrooms.  My childhood house seems like a mansion now.  I wish I reveled in it all along instead of comparing it to the larger homes my friends grew up in.  I was so fortunate.


No self pity, it could be worse.  Then again, it could be better... No, no, no, it could be worse.

I wanted to hug the walls of my house and never let go.  I felt like a child.  I guess there is a reason for that, I am an adult child of divorce (ACOD).  This was no ordinary move.  At times I wanted this whole disaster to be over with, this move, like a band-aid ripped off I wanted to be moved and done with.  At others, I couldn't accept the reality of saying goodbye to my lifelong home.  I wanted to run away and never come back.  Set the house on fire.  Flee.  But there was no denying reality when move day came around, this was real.  Why was this so hard?  Hadn't I already written a Crash Course in Saying Goodbyes?  Hadn't I established that four walls does not a home make.  It is the people that matter.  I beat my hypocritical self up for thinking like a child, unable to accept reality like an adult.

Move day came and went and I am left with the task of boxes I packed so long ago.  It is time to unpack the contents of our house into this quaint apartment in Queens.  It is not as dingy as some of the others we looked at in my Mother's price-range, but it is small and unfamiliar.  This is strange.

I keep telling myself, it is only a matter of time before this sinks in and this place feels regular again, like a home.  It is hard to assess when the place is stacked high with brown boxes.  Give it time.

Instead of unpacking, I am writing.  Instead of dealing with the now, I am doing something else.  Does this sound familiar?  Yes. 


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.