Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series about divorce and how it can affect a person’s life from childhood to adulthood. Jakki Thompson is sharing her experiences dealing with the divorce of her own parents in the hopes that it will help others who are coping with this common social issue.
On a dark Saturday Christmas Eve, after my father had closed the pawn shop he owned, my parents were sitting around talking in the front, commercial area of the store. As I cleaned the glass display cases, my parents began to whisper. Then, my dad, in a normal speaking voice, said the six words that changed the rest of my life.
“I think I want a divorce.”
As my sixth-grade self, I didn’t know what it meant or how this “divorce” would affect the rest of my life. When Christmas Day came the next day, my parents pretended nothing had ever been said. They acted like this for the following six months, even though papers had been filed and the beginning of the war had begun.
When I returned home from school on my last day of sixth grade, my mom had all of my clothing and some of my toys packed into garbage bags and packed in her car; she was waiting to drive me to my dad’s house.
Living with my father became the most pivotal two-and-a-half years of my life.
During my early adolescence, which is between the ages of 11-13 according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, I missed out on psycho-emotional development. During this time, young adults typically struggle with their sense of identity, feel awkward about themselves and have increased conflict with their parents.
Middle adolescence is between the ages of 14-18. Adolescents in this stage have increased self-involvement, a tendency to distance themselves from their parents and often worry about being “normal.”
When I moved in with my father, I didn’t get to experience this time in my life because I had to go from childhood straight into adulthood. Constantly, I was told I had to “act like an adult” from both of my parents, even though my primary parent was my father.
The way visitation worked while my parents were still getting divorced was that my mother had me on weekends and my dad on the weekdays, minus holidays.
When I was at my mother’s house, I never felt like I truly fit in. My mom had distanced herself from me, and her entire side of the family, because I chose to live with my dad. It seemed I had become a terrible child because I made a choice “as an adult” about who I wanted to live with. But they thought I was just going to end up like my sister, which wasn’t the case, even to this day.
Due to the pressure of having to act like an adult, I used to cry, silently by myself, because I could never please my family. No matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough. During my family’s divorce, no one would give me the time of day. I was silent and introverted.
While I struggled with what was happening to me, no one was really there to hold my hand and tell me it would get better. Instead, they sent me to a mediator. There wasn’t a national campaign to help me through my pain, and there wasn’t anyone to tell me I was going to make it through this; I had no one. Everyone had emotionally abandoned me when I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life. Well, that’s what it felt like to my 12-year-old-self.
Seven years later, I still find that every day is a struggle I have to face. When people ask me about my family, I have to explain to them that I haven’t spoken to my biological father in four years and my sister in three.
My parents’ divorce affects me at least once a day, every day. This is something that has defined who I am. It is also, unfortunately, one of the things many people don’t know about me; my parents’ divorce is one of the dark secrets of my past. And still, I don’t know how to handle it other than continuing to tell my story and hope that it helps others.
As I sit here, having finished this article, I struggle with the words I wanted to put into it. This has taken me more than a week and over 20 hours to write. I struggled to find the right words because the closure I felt like I needed from my parents’ divorce never happened.
I am disappointed most of all that my family was unable to resolve the problems they were having, and have dragged me to hell and back because of it.
Jakki Thompson is a sophomore in journalism, women’s studies and American ethnic studies. Please send comments to email@example.com.