When the angry words darted over my head as I worked on my coloring book, I barely heard them. When I stepped over my father like a lumpy carpet, passed out in the hallway, inches from his bedroom, I merely giggled. When my mother quickly remarried and we needed to move from our home, I took a long last look at the huge tree on the wall of my pink room — stenciled by my mother, leaves falling, grass and white picket fence surrounding — picked up my favorite stuffed animal, a Dalmatian with a torn ear, and left.
Our new situation was different but not better. We upgraded from Brooklyn to the suburbs. We now had a pool, which I was afraid of, and a live-in housekeeper who hated my mother and resented me and my brother. There were two new stepbrothers and a stepfather whom my younger brother and I had met only a handful of times. We are all young, angry and scared, including the adults who fought even louder and dirtier than my mother and father had.
We were four children thrown together and fumbling around in the dark without a guide. It certainly took its toll on our childhood innocence, and research has shown that being a child of divorce has lifelong effects. But it doesn’t necessarily translate into lifelong troubles.
For me, growing up as a child of divorce had some surprising benefits.
It made me responsible. At 11, I was the oldest of the children. Looking back, I wish I could have done more, but I know I provided some comfort for my younger brother and two younger stepbrothers.
It made me strong. When you have parents with their own issues, you learn to fend for yourself. I did my homework even though no one told me to. I stood up to the mean girls at school. I made my own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And that self-sufficiency brought more resilience.
It made me appreciate. As an adult, I understand the value of my life and all the beauty in it. Every single day I am grateful for what I have.
It made me loyal. I take my relationships seriously and try to be a friend to depend on.
It helped me choose a stable partner. I met my husband when we were teenagers. We dated for eight years and now have been married for almost 19. He has always been a rock in my life. He comes from a strong family; he has values and a good head on his shoulders. He doesn’t drink or do drugs. He is warm, dependable, steady and loving – a truly good husband.
It made me a better mom. My husband and I are the proud parents of three boys whose family life doesn’t remotely resemble the dysfunction of my childhood. My boys feel safe and coddled. My life revolves around them, so much so that they take it for granted. And while I hope they appreciate me and my husband, I feel strangely satisfied in the fact that they’re so confident about their security.
I will never let my kids feel alone or neglected. They know I care: I volunteer at their school. My husband coaches all their sports. We attend every event. I make sure their homework is done, bake them their favorite treats and tuck them in at night. I talk to them during the day, pestering them with questions about their lives, friends and feelings.
I will never let them run amok. I remember being jealous of friends who had curfews, chores and annoying moms who hovered over them. Their parents held them accountable. They couldn’t come and go as they pleased like I could. They had family dinners and obligations. To me, that translated to caring. My husband and I make sure that our boys always feel loved and know they have parents they can count on.
I learned I can count on myself. I am a doer. I don’t rely on anyone else, though recently I’ve been trying to learn that it is okay to accept help. I take responsibility for my stuff and get things done.
We all know life isn’t fair. As my grandmother always reminded me, no one ever said it would be. Yes, I had a difficult childhood, but it made me who I am today.