I am older now and starting to see he may still love me but for years I have not felt that he does. My Mom told my sisters and me that he left our family when he got a divorce from my mother. I am 16 now and since we still see him frequently, I’m starting to think my mother made this up. She still says it all the time and it has been 8 years since they divorced. He remarried last year and she was bothered I went to the wedding.

I’m very glad you wrote. This is a situation that comes up sometimes—not always, but often enough—when parents divorce.

Divorce is experienced differently by each person involved. The parents don’t have exactly the same experience as each other. Their own parents and extended families have their own experiences of it. And the children of the couple certainly have their own experiences. Even if some are happy that the divorce is occurring, it is not a universally positive or negative experience for anyone. What it is, is a very substantial change for everyone, especially for the kids.

There are whole books and courses written to guide parents in supporting their children after divorce. Like most things in life, these books and courses are optional. And that is probably how it should be. I’m not a big fan of forcing people to do things. I enjoy my freedom, and like for others to have it as well.

I am also not a fan of telling children to consider their parents’ needs and emotions first, as that goes against what’s best for kids. However, you are old enough to understand that divorce is painful for the adults involved. I say this not to elicit your compassion, but to give you some insight as to why they might be behaving as they do. 

When people—even many adults—are in the grip of pain and suffering, their ability to see things from another’s point of view can be greatly compromised. This can sometimes be the case with parents who are undergoing divorce. As much as part of them wants to be present for and do the right thing for their children, they may simply lack the knowledge, skills and resources to pull it off while they’re feeling flattened by a divorce.

It sounds like, to some degree, this was the case with your mother. It is in no way a necessity in western culture when two adults divorce, that the one who leaves the primary household is “divorcing the family.” Sometimes it does wind up that way, but the children typically figure it out for themselves—the parent doesn’t honor scheduled visits or keep their promises—it isn’t announced to them by the other parent.

Often a parent who is feeling betrayed heals in time and stops saying the things they said in the early days, moving on with their life. But sometimes not.

The best way to approach this is to focus on what you wish to build and how you wish to form your relationships as a developing adult. The first and most important thing is to identify how YOU feel about these situations—and it really is a series of situations involving both your parents and now others as well—and allow yourself to have those feelings that are yours, separate from your mother’s feelings. She is allowed to have her feelings, and her beliefs, but they are just that: her own feelings and beliefs. 

No doubt there are facts regarding your parents’ marriage that led to their divorce. Some of these may be particularly hurtful to your mother. Unless they present a legitimate risk to you or your siblings, though, there is no need for you to be told of them, or for them to factor into your relationship with your father.

You are entitled to have your own feelings about anything. Feelings just are: they are your body’s spontaneous reaction to whatever is happening around you. They happen in order to inform your decision making. Now that you are getting older, you need to understand what your feelings are doing for you and realize they exist for your support. Although they may be uncomfortable at times, they are your allies. Think of them like Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust in the movie Inside Out. A funny, helpful bunch, right?

As long as you are underage, you are required to follow your custodial parent’s rules, or be subject to whatever legal consequences they impose for breaking them. It sounds as though your mother isn’t interfering in your relationship with your father and stepmother any more than repeating the same thing she said when you were eight. Not ideal, certainly, but it could be worse.

My question to you is, what feelings do you have when she does this? Allow yourself to have those feelings. At some point, you may want to share them with your mother. Of course, you may not want to, that is up to you. It’s a good idea to share them with someone you trust. Some kids talk to their friends, others a teacher. If you wanted your own therapist you could tell them and they would keep your feelings confidential, even from your parents. One or two conversations might help more than you realize.

Your mother is going through her own transition now, as you will be of legal age in less than two years’ time. She is bound to be experiencing some stress due to this. You should not be focused on caring for her—you must focus on caring for yourself—but it is helpful to know what is likely happening for her.

When you arrive as a full participant in the world of functional adults at the age of 18, I believe you will find that the ones who do best are those who know that they have their own feelings and beliefs, and don’t automatically assume others share them. You can start now, realizing that you are a separate individual from both your parents, and ultimately you will make up your own mind about what to think, believe and do.

Thank you for writing today. I wish you the best of luck and the greatest excitement for your future!

Photo by Ana Francisconi from Pexels.

Published by Anne Lindyberg

Anne Lindyberg has a master's degree in school psychology and advanced training in Satir Transformational Systems. She is a former school psychologist, mother of two adult children, and loves living in the cornfields of southeast Iowa with her beautiful Toller-Dog, Lila and Sassy the cat.

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