Today I got some hard news: my parents are splitting up. I know this happens a lot nowadays, but my parents seemed so in love with each other. Now it feels like everything about love and relationships I’ve learned is a complete lie. My mom says my dad cheated on her, while my dad says my mom was ignoring him. It’s all so confusing and because of this I may have to leave California and go back to live with my other family in Michigan, leave pets behind, and my old friends. I just don’t know how to feel.
Oh, Sparkler. I’m sorry, that’s really the worst. Watching your parents divorce is devastating; even if it’s for the best, and even if they’re better apart than together, their marriage was still the first glimpse you got into what love is supposed to look like. It hurts to see that fall apart, no matter what.
But in the midst of your hurt, remember this: just because something has disintegrated, that doesn’t mean it never existed to begin with.
Your parents’ split doesn’t nullify everything you ever learned about love and relationships; it just makes your knowledge bigger, more nuanced, and more complex. The fact that they’re divorcing now doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or right; it just means that love doesn’t necessarily last forever, or against all odds, or without a certain amount of effort. It means that people who take each other for granted can discover too late that their connection has fizzled somewhere along the way, or that a person can only yearn for attention so long before seeking it in all the wrong places, or that infidelity can break a heart beyond repair. These aren’t pretty truths, but in many ways, they’re just as important as your parents’ early happiness in teaching you what love should—or, sometimes, shouldn’t—look like.
Of course, it would be helpful if I didn’t have to be the one to tell you this—and if your parents weren’t more or less plucking their breakup strategy directly from a textbook titled The Complete Asshat’s Guide to Divorce. They shouldn’t be blame-slinging and oversharing with you; the details of what prompted their split aren’t yours to parse, and knowing them will only make you miserable. And the next time one of them brings it up, please feel free to step in, hold up a hand, and say, “Please don’t put me in the middle of this. What happened between you two isn’t my business.”
What is your business: hanging in there. Talk about how this affects you. Make your voice heard. Speak up when it comes to the questions of where and how you live after the split, because your opinion matters. Look for perspective where you can, particularly in the fact that your parents are people, too, and just as capable as anyone of making mistakes in life and in love. And let yourself feel what you’re feeling, be it shock, or grief, or disappointment, or disillusionment. It’s okay to feel shattered by this.
But don’t let one bad deal sour you on the whole business—and don’t dismiss your parents’ marriage as rotten from start to finish. You know better than that; you, the child they brought into the world, are living proof of how much they loved each other. And even if they don’t anymore, that doesn’t mean that everything you believed about love is a lie; it just means that the truth about love is more complicated than you imagined.
Have you had to deal with your parents’ divorce? Leave your stories and supportive advice in the comments! And to get in touch with Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.