The following interview was conducted with an adult child of divorce who is now part of a blended family.
This person is not a client but in order to protect their privacy, all identifying information will be kept confidential. They have read the entirety of this article and consent to its publication.
Here’s the interview:
So today we’re having a conversation about being an adult child of divorce and being part of a blended family. Why does this topic apply to you?My parents separated and then divorced when I was 16 and both got remarried within the next 4 years. Now I’m an adult child of divorced parents and we have since then have formed this giant blended family. But it’s actually more like two giant families – my step-dad’s kids and my step-mom’s kids. So I get to practice blending… twice.
So how many siblings do you have?
Youngest of three biological siblings in my nuclear family. Older brother and sister. Mom married a man with two sons around my age. My dad remarried a woman with three younger kids. All together that makes eight.
What’s it like for you to answer the sibling questions?
Didn’t feel like siblings at first but now we’re about seven years down the road and they really do feel like my family.
What was it like when your parents remarried?
My dad’s marriage came at a time when I was still feeling pretty blurry from all of this. I remember feeling a lot of things but not having vocabulary or space to put words to what I was feeling.
Looking back, I now know that I was in a numb phase of shock. But I don’t have a ton of memories of that wedding or that first year of marriage.
My mom’s wedding, I remember a little bit more. I remember feeling a sense of relief because it felt like the last transition in the midst of a lot of change. It felt like the last big thing and then things could settle out and could develop their own norm.
How would you describe the time before your parents remarried?
Shocking, for many reasons. And there wasn’t a norm. I was always bracing myself for the next change or the next shock to the system. But in other ways, nothing was shocking because I was like this big pillow of shock absorption at this point <laughter>.
What do you mean by that?
You could’ve told me that half of the earth had broken off and I would’ve been pretty subtle about my reaction. Felt really unfazed by most things.
When did you feel like you weren’t in that unfazed state?
Well, I think it has a lasting effect on the way that I interpret change now. Nothing has the same gravity as that did. I began to process the divorce and the change in later years, probably during my college years.
What prompted that processing?
That was a point when a lot of good friends entered my life. I made some really important friendships who all in their different ways prompted me to think a bit more about this.
As an adult, there were a lot of assumptions that I was busy living my own life or that these things didn’t effect me that much, and that I had a lot of exiting things happening personally.I realized that I was going to have to set an intention otherwise I wouldn’t get to see the significance of what happening to me. Whereas with young children we have to think about it more because they continue to be in the household and we continue to think about care.
I wish my family would’ve had more conversations about continued care looks like. Rather than saying “you can be at whatever house you want and we want to support you” but I know that both of my parents care more about that. Obviously, I’m an adult and I could choose where to be but we didn’t talk about what was important to them about how much time we spent at each place.
I do remember that immediately after the divorce happened feeling I knew what I was supposed to do. I had friends who were from divorced families and I felt like I knew some of the language about step-parents and splitting time.
I remember it feeling really weird saying that I was spending the weekend at my mom’s versus just spending the weekend at home. My life felt like it took on another layer of complexity but one that was also familiar. Divorce is a pretty normal part of our society, unfortunately.
How did having friends with divorced parents impact you during that time?
It was both good and bad. Some of the normalizing of it made it feel like it wasn’t such a big deal which I think stunted some of my emotional experiences. I also come from a family with a central focus on the Christian faith. I knew that redemption was possible.
Where does the message come from?
I think it came from my own faith at that time. I really wanted to believe that something better was going to come from brokenness. And it did.
What have you seen?
Well I think that entering college is a complex time anyway, you’re developmentally at a place where you can think about family of origin. I learned a lot about how my parents weren’t actually ever super happy together and now I get to see them be people that make them into really different people than I saw growing up, but I think that they are more of themselves.
Tell me more about how that central focus on Christian faith interacted with that time?
Part of that was probably my Dad’s modeling of faithfulness to his community and their faithfulness and return. I was involved in a lot of Christian communities at that time so I had a lens that supported a positive mentality of what could be.
When people ask you about your parents’ divorce, what do you say?
It’s interesting, people don’t ask really about it. Unless they come from families where their families were divorced. Or they have a close relationship with someone with divorced parents. I think that’s a common experience.
Other people who have divorced parents “get it” on some level. Especially if they were adults when their parents separated. I am often reminded that I’m still processing phase when I talk to someone else who speaks rather matter-of-factly about it. My story is a bit layered.
What is your view of divorce?
Divorce is really interesting actually. As our culture changes from one of marriage to one of longer time commitment and relationships, divorce means a lot of things depending on the family. It is not always an “easy way out.”Just like marriage, it is a choice that you are making. And we always have more than one choice. I think there a lot of hurtful marriages happening but I also want to believe in growth and change. There are so many factors to think about that go into something like divorce.
Yes, maybe two people can figure out a marriage that was really broken but sometimes it’s not always what is best for the family or the community. It is definitely not always the “easy way out”. Some people think that. It was very hard on both of my parents.
What is your view of marriage?
I guess I feel that way about marriage also. It’s not the easy way “in”. You continue to make choices that move you father down the path… hopefully.
It has been really healing for me to meet people who have marriages that seem really good and healthy. When my parents divorced I really thought it was not possible for two people to make it if my parents couldn’t do it. That obviously zapped a lot of hope from me. But it continues to really feel like a miracle any time a marriage works. There is a risk involved.
There seems to be common language around divorce. Particularly that divorce will “ruin the kids” and the kids will have a “warped view of relationships.” What’s your response to that?
Well, I don’t think my parents would have said that. We were all at in an age, in their minds, where those things would not be the case for us. However, I definitely have been a bit tainted in years since. It has had a couple of effects on me. I take dating very seriously because it feels very real to me.
I also know from my own studies that it takes a few generations for dysfunctions to make their way out of a family system. Like divorce. Alcoholism may be another.
My mother’s mom was also divorced a couple times. For a while, it was hard for me not to think about myself as a part of that or not continuing that legacy. I would say that I’m much more careful when I think about relationships now… and I think a big part of that is because of the divorce.
Are there any other ways that you would say you are currently impacted?
I think I am continually impacted. I continue to mourn the fact that my nuclear family will never be together again. Being the four people who know me in really unique ways as the people of my nuclear family, it is pretty hard to come to grips with that sometimes, especially around significant events.
They have their own lives that they are excited to live with their partners. For me, that has meant that I do not receive as much attention which has been a hard reality as well. They are more inclined to hang out with one another than they are to hang out with one of their kids.
What is being in a blended family like for you?
The sibling part is similar in the way you’d deal with any sibling – they’re going to be a part of your life for the rest of your life. It’s different because I didn’t spend my childhood with these people and we’re different at our core because we’ve had different upbringings.
It has redefined my definition of family and siblings. It has always felt better to me to lean into these sibling relationships than to discount them as not worth it because they are going to be life-long people.
What’s your definition of family?
The people you know are really going to be a part of your life forever. A lot of my friendships feel like family to me. Family definitely feels bigger than the eight people that comprise my blended family. There are people that understand me on different levels than my parents do.
What’s the conversation around divorce like in your family?Nobody talks about. That sometimes feels like a bit of hurtful discounting of what my whole life looked like about divorce. Usually what I hear about from both sets of parents is about their life after they met one another and not a lot of what their life was like with each other, for obvious reasons. It is awkward to talk about a former spouse with your current spouse. But it also means that all of our memories, until I was 16, are not really talked about.
How have you seen the Christian faith interact with divorce?
Some Christians really suck. Some people’s idea of consolation during that time was really offensive to my whole family. However, for the most part, Christians in my life have been really understanding and supportive.
And that’s toward me. I wasn’t directly involved in the breakage and I’m sure my parents would have different answers for themselves. I was always looked at as a victim of this so there was always a lot of support and empathy and sympathy.
Even Christians mess things up. Because we’re not better than anyone else.
There’s often a lot of fear of resentment and fear of favoritism within divorce. What’s your experience with that?
It’s interesting because I’ve had a lot of people my parent’s age ask me that. They often say “I just went through a divorce a year or two ago. My kids about your age are totally dismissing me and I don’t know what to do.”
I think the best thing a parent can do is to give their child space, not putting a constraint on how/when they process. I think the sadness and anger and resentment is healthy and important to the process. If you’ve been a good parent they’ll come around.
Make yourself available but don’t push the relationship to be something that it’s not at that time. And recognize that you messed up. You hurt your child and you don’t get to take that back. You have to let your child heal from that on their own.
I think we innately crave our parents, the two people who created us, in one place, in love with each other. Any time that doesn’t work out, it goes against our concept of what love and family look like.
Maybe just acknowledging that is the best you can do and continuing to attend to your kids many years down the road, even when they look like they’re doing fine. It is a lifelong change for a family.
How have you seen Christian faith interact with blended families?
Well, half of my family would not ascribe to any kind of faith. The other half would, very much so. Interestingly enough they’ve been equally excellent at accepting new members of the family and pretty immediately saying these are my new people.
I think the idea of a blended family is more parallel to the Christian faith than not. We’re called to love all people and blended families are just bonus points, I guess.
How has being an adult child of divorce and a member of a blended family impacted your faith?
I think I’ve been more open in the way that I think about people in general. People can be capable of a lot of love an also a lot of hurt and pain.
I’m a much less black and white thinker since all of this has happened, which has grown my own capacity to see people where they’re at and to more freely extend love and grace. Things would be much different in my “right and wrong, black and white” family if this had not happened.
What’s it like for you to talk about all of this?
Helpful. I find that it’s helpful anytime I talk about it. And interesting to hear myself talk about it.
Any final thoughts?
It’s getting better with time.
“Cracked Land”, Courtesy of Klimkin, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Divorce”, Courtesy of CQF-avocat, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Blended Family”, Courtesy of OpenClipart-Vectors, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sunset”, Courtesy of DasWortgewand, Pixabay.com, CC0 License