Friday, March 18, 2011

Introducing the Amazing, Disappearing Community! Poof!

I ran across this guest blog entry while searching for others writing on the same topic. A Divorce Attorney and Mediator of  23 years writes about the differences in the divorce experience for older children.

" 'Written exclusively for Feeling Barefoot by guest blogger Diana Mercer:
It seems like older children take their parents’ divorce much harder than the younger ones do. As much as a divorce rocks the world of a child under 12 years old, mostly these kids are resilient and they adapt to the change in circumstances. And the younger they are, the better they adapt..."
"So what happens to the older kids is even more heartbreaking, because there’s less time and opportunity for repair. If you’re older and out of the house, you don’t have teachers and guidance counselors looking over your shoulder. You don’t see your folks every day. You’re busy with college or culinary school or work and unless you’re really fumbling nobody suggests you talk to a therapist.' "  
And if you happen to be a new mother when your parents break up, everyone will find it much easier to talk about your baby's sleeping habits. They'll have 300 product recommendations and 150 books to share on how to feed your kids, but no one will have a word for you about what's happened to your family of origin. And you yourself will stay awake during the precious moments your baby is asleep, because it's the only time you'll have to cry.

So this attorney seems to mostly be addressing the older teen, but the list she presents feels familiar. I would add two things:

1) There are more resources for both parents and children going through a divorce than a person could ever use. That both aids in adding to the understanding of the experience and to the tools available to the parties affected; also significantly, I think it normalizes the experience for all involved to some degree. As I've said, there are TWO books for adult kids experiencing divorce, and one is out of print. I've found TWO other blogs on this subject. Divorce in the +50 crowd is rising, even as the general divorce (and marriage) rates decline. 

This is something that's happening.

And apparently there are only a very few people that think it needs to be talked about or studied. How that for alienation?

2) I have only very rarely been asked how I am doing with all this in 5 years. Grief is generally a fairly solitary experience, I understand that, but a major part of the intense loneliness of this chain of events has been that I have continued to move in and out of the same community I was raised in, full of families I have known 25+ years.

And I can't tell you how many of those people, who once felt like second families to me, have never once in my presence acknowledged what's happened. From an overwhelming majority there has been not a gesture, not a word.

If anything is said at all, it's an inquiry about how my parents are holding up. It's their divorce right? When a child loses a sibling or a parent, when a family faces financial ruin, holy hell - when your dog dies or when a tree falls on your house you will get more social support than if your parents divorce after you leave home. That's my experience anyway.


When my parents separated, it was a death. I guess the thing was that I thought that was it.

But it wasn't a singular event.

It was a supernova, a hundred little deaths have followed. And there is no formula that predicts when the next one comes. Yes, there are certain elements that many ACODs experience: I knew things would probably build to a frenzy around the time the divorce was finalized, and it did. I knew holidays could become days of absolute dread and nausea. They did. I knew if either of my parents remarried it would break my heart. I read those things. They were true; they happened to me. But I was not prepared for the social fall out that continues to catch me with my guard down.

When my family imploded, the community I'd known my entire life sat on the event horizon. One death after another, I've watched it get dismantled and sucked into the black hole that sits where my dysfunctional, but familiar family once was.

Friends of my parents whom I had always felt nurtured by disappeared into exclusive relationships with my mother, as I tried to continue relationships with both of my parents. Now I wasn't just slung into the old familiar gap between my parents, there was a new gap that I maneuvered in, and on either side was almost everyone who'd ever cared about me.

Within weeks of my parents' separation I'd called one of my best friends from college to tell her the news. Her parents were also divorced. Unbelievably, after 4 years of friendship that conversation was the last we ever had. There was no explanation. She just stopped returning my calls.

My dad's brother has only recently spoken about any of this to me, telling me I'd better work out the 7-month-old estrangement I've chosen from my dad. In 5 years, it's the only comment he's made to me; he's never asked me a single question. He didn't even allow me space to respond.

And I'm sure as a couple, it's unnerving to watch the split of a couple with whom you've shared a decade of friendship. Maybe divorce is contagious; when Al and Tipper Gore, who are maybe the poster couple for "gray divorce" broke up,  it was reported soon after that one of their daughters had split from her husband the year before, and another just months prior to her parents. Is that what made everyone nervous enough to step away from me?

Is divorce a social disease?

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