Whether it was three or thirty years ago, this letter from Susan Smit is for you.
Dear child of divorced parents,
You probably know the song, and its words may be recognizable to you: “Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love, sometimes two homes are better than one, some things you can’t tell your sister ‘cause she’s still too young, yeah you’ll understand when you love someone.”
It’s for the better, they say. You will understand it when you’re older, they say. That’s how love can be, they say. But in the meantime, you’re the one who has to travel from one house to the other all the time. You’re the one who has to miss mom and dad – always one of them. You’re the one who sees other children in the street who are walking between their mom and dad, and who think it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Maybe, you can’t even remember the time when your parents lived in the same house as you. Or maybe they have just told you they are splitting up. Either way, dear child, I feel for you. I would want to carry the “missing” for you, take away all the restlessness, and beseech your fears, just as I –a child of divorced parents myself – would want to do for my two small children and my two “bonus” teenage daughters. But it’s all on your plate, no matter how small or big you are.
You love your mom and dad equally, no matter who left, no matter who was unfaithful, no matter who is said to be “guilty” of making the family fall apart. You hate how one of your parents rejects or criticizes the other because you feel they are rejecting part of who you are. Your heart hurts when one of your parents doesn’t want the other to come over, so they don’t even know what your bedroom looks like – as if your life exists of two separate parts, and there is no glue in the world that could keep them together. Your heart jumps up and you feel safe when you hear one of them speak the words: “Your mom and I have discussed…” or “You are just as skilful as your dad.”
When everything changed, you probably saw sadness, anger, or panic in your parents. Or perhaps they didn’t show it, but you could feel it. Slowly but surely, there was room for laughter again, the frown left your dad’s forehead and the sadness left your mom’s eyes and everyone seemed to get used to the new situation. It comforted you, but you don’t like them acting like things were never different. Why did the old photo albums disappear from the cupboard, why did they take away the picture of you as a baby with mom and dad and why do they act indifferently when you share a memory from the time you all lived together? It seems as if that time is no longer allowed to exist because it wasn’t “real”, or one big mistake.
Don’t you hate it when one of your parents tries to get information from you about the other, or when you have to pass on messages between them? After all, you’re not a mailman, are you? And don’t you hate it when appointments about when you’ll be picked up or taken someplace are vague or keep changing. Or when your parents try to compete about who’s the nicest parent.
Dear child, even though your parents make mistakes and handle the situation awkwardly, know they never intend to hurt you. Know that your feelings matter. Know that you’re always missed, but that you don’t have to worry about the parent you’re not with at the moment. Know that your feelings are normal and that you are always allowed to feel and express them. Know that you are allowed to miss the other parent, that you’re never betraying the parent you’re with. Know you are loved, and that your parents’ love for a new partner or new bonus children will never ever change that.
Know that you were never a mistake, even if your mom or dad talks about their relationship as if it was a mistake. You’re the opposite: you’re the biggest gift they ever had.
With love and respect for who you are and how you’re handling all this,
Text: Susan Smit – Photo: Japheth Mast
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