A Normal Pain
By: Sydney Lee | English Columnist
“We’re getting a divorce.”
Just hearing the word slip through my parent’s mouth as they screamed at each other used to make my ten year old self’s eyes fill immediately with tears. As a young kid, I didn’t really understand what the word meant; however, the word itself sounded so daunting, as if it signaled a final decision that was going to crumble my life apart within seconds. I used to firmly press my hands over my ears whenever my parents fought, trying to avoid the reality that a simple word could destroy my family forever.
For those of us who have divorced parents, divorce can be difficult to understand. As the conceived children of love, it is difficult for us to comprehend the actual impermanence of love. We grow up reading stories about everlasting love, and were constantly told that our birth was only possible through our parents’ love. But the legitimacy of our existence is threatened by a two-syllable word that our parents muttered in frustration; we are confused, disheartened, but most of all, lost.
Nowadays, I no longer put my hands over my ears in fear of possibly hearing this two-syllable word. In fact, I find myself saying it indifferently on a common basis. I often get questions about my family and I reply, “Yeah, my parents are divorced.” It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to anymore, but it still occupies a deep part of my mind. Instead of replying with “I’m sorry to hear that,” I find that people reply with, “Yeah, me too.” Then we go on with our day, pretending that because divorce is normalized and so common, it is not something we are allowed to make a big deal out of. This is the saddest part: society’s norms force us to pretend that it is all okay—that this event is not a scar in our hearts.
Over the past years, divorce has become a an increasingly common concept that society has become indifferent towards. People have accepted that having married parents is no longer the norm; about 40 to 50% of parents within the United States end up in a legal divorce, which doesn’t even take into account the number of those who go through unofficial divorce, or separation. The dominant societal attitude asserts that it is reasonable to marry for love, but unreasonable to get a divorce for the lack of love. True love is no longer an action or a life choice, but simply a feeling. When the feeling fades, so does the relationship’s legitimacy.
The idea is that because individuals married for love, a marriage without love seems contrary; however such views fail to account for the fact that people may purely marry for love only to discover that there are circumstances within life that love simply cannot conquer. Whether these circumstances are economic reasons of financial instability or cultural reasons of family disapproval, a marriage borne out of love can still diminish even as love persists. In the struggle to define the reason behind a failed marriage, the children’s need for reassurance and parental warmth is often not properly addressed. Children often do not express the direct impact that their parents’ divorce has on them in fear of worsening the situation; in a small part of their mind, there is hope that if they stay silent to be the best child they can be, their family could perhaps be saved after all.
And because divorce has become a normalized concept for the adults, the assumption is that the concept has also become normalized for the children. But with this thought, we fail to acknowledge the mental distress that the children of divorced parents have been faced with; we may not recognize it as pain or suffering, but rather a common life event. There is a certain level of shame and guilt that comes with the identity of being a “child of divorced parents” in society. This causes the children to conceal this pain deeply, believing that their pain is not legitimate. But these children, including the 10 year old me, who pressed her hands firmly on her ears and the now 20 year old me who has become indifferent to self-identifying as a daughter of divorced parents, deserve to hear the truth:
It’s okay to feel hurt. That moment when you didn’t have a dad to buy a new tie for on father’s day or that moment when you made a paper flower in class on mother’s day to a mom you didn’t have, your heart ached a bit as your shoulders drooped a little. And as much as you want to express your disappointment, you hold it all back and instead let out a weak smile for your parents who have tried their very best to not let this influence you. That pain you felt, that pain you still feel, and that pain you will always carry with you-- it only hurts, because your pain matters.