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By Mary Kelly-Williams, M.A.

I was watching Oprah the other day.  The show was about Adult Children of Divorce.  The hour was devoted to the thousands of adult children of divorce who, despite the fact that their parent's divorces were decades ago, are still carrying around sorrow, resentment and low self-esteem.

As a parent who divorced after twenty-years of marriage with four children, shows like this tug at this conscientious mother's heartstrings.

But, speaking of strings, after listening to these "adults" confront their now elderly parents about the devastating effects of their parent's divorces, I was starting to wonder where the violins were.


How do I talk about this without sounding defensive or cold-hearted?

As a therapist, in my work with clients, I ask them to take responsibility for any unresolved issues they have with their parents and themselves.  This goes for adults whose parents divorced when they were growing up.

"Reframing" is a technique many therapists use to help their clients take a second look at their memories to see if there are different and even positive ways they can look at painful recollections.

Studies support the empowerment that reframing can offer when we look for the richness in the messiness.  

I ask my clients to bring compassion to their life stories. I ask them to look for the treasures that are surely hidden in the core of their pain.

I'm no Pollyanna and I will tell you that when my former husband and I divorced, we did it sloppily.  We were, at times, self-centered and pre-occupied due to our own grief and anger.   There were periods when our children were left to their own devices and I say this with no sense of flippancy, rationalization or justification.  Because we never expected it, we sucked at it.  

I admit to a deep sense of regret when I look back on this time, and my apologies to my children have been frequent, and at times, annoying.

I have never met or worked with anyone going through divorce that treated it lightly.  Many I work with suffer from residual guilt about the long-term effects their divorce may be having on their children, even though they are happier themselves.  

As children we were taught that "sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you."  While we can decide that the hurtful things that people say to us are merely vibrations in the air, the words we use to describe our lives and the meaning we give to our experiences are indeed powerful.

When I divorced, I just couldn't buy the whole "broken family" concept. I saw my family as being simply "restructured".  My children still had a mother and father who loved them and were there for them.  

I was not a single parent, I was a divorced parent.  

As I was watching Oprah and listening to the pain of the now grown up children of divorce, I thought of my own childhood.  My parents had a long marriage and they loved one another.  Despite this, they did many things that hurt me deeply...things that required time in therapy and digging deeply into spiritual places to recover form the unintended inflicted wounds.

Divorce continues to get a bad rap, while the ravages of unhappily married parents continue to wreck havoc and sorrow on the lives of children daily.

I wrote Oprah to tell her she should do a show highlighting the BENEFITS OF DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE.

The distinction for me continues to be not that people do divorce, of course they do.  Over 52% of first marriages end in divorce.  The key is HOW people divorce.  People can divorce well, and now that the stigma of divorce is slowly melting away, divorcing well is more than possible.

When done conscientiously, benefits can abound.  If you were to sit down and have a conversation with any of my four children who now range in age from 20-25, they might tell you this:

  1. That at the time it was difficult and awful, but through it all they learned compassion and they learned early that you don't always get what you want, but you get what you need.
  2. That they learned that sometimes one must disappoint another to be true to themselves, and that ultimately their lives are much improved because of the divorce of their parents.
  3. That they have been given new models of relationship in the remarriage of their parents that give them something to aspire to, rather than shrink away from.
  4. That they have two parents with different ways of living and being that teach them there is no one "right" way of living in the world.
  5. That they have more adults in their lives because of their parent's remarriages who love and care for them.
  6. That they have learned the value of flexibility needed when painful situations come their way.
  7. That when Christmas comes around, they get double the fun!

There are many who will tell you that some of the greatest and most profound lessons of their lives were learned through painful circumstances, such as illness, tragedy or loss.

Divorce is no exception and presents a great window of opportunity for the putting away of the old and the bringing on of the new.

Perhaps Oprah should consider doing a show of adult children confronting their parents on why they DIDN'T get a divorce.

Now there's a show I'd look forward to tuning into.


Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Gina wrote Feb 13, 2008
    • Great article.  It is nice to hear a refreshing point of view on marriage, and life after marriage.  The associated guilt is pointless, unproductive, and unfair.  It has been really nice to read this.  Keep up the good work!

            Report  Reply

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Skincaregirl wrote Feb 13, 2008
    • Great article!

      Though many parents may be sloppy at handling a divorce there are many parents out there that are sloppy parents.

      My final decision to get a divorce was that I didn’t want my child or myself to live in a negative environment that my ex and I created.  Though we may have good intentions we are not taught how to be a parents.  I think we learn from our parents, which could be good or bad.

      Let us know when you hear from Oprah!:)

      Much Success and Blessings to YOU!

            Report  Reply

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Kelly-Williams, M.A. wrote Feb 18, 2008
    • Hi Gina and Leslie,

      Thanks so much for your comments and taking the time to write.  Gina, sounds like you’ve been there and done that.  And Leslie, your decision sounds like it was well thought out and refreshing.  We don’t hear often enough that more times than not, we decide to divorce FOR the children.

      Keep writing.  Would love to continue to hear your views.


            Report  Reply

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mary Kelly-Williams, M.A. wrote Jun 29, 2008
    • Thanks Azdana!

      I bet you do have a story—marrying the same man twice.  

      It seems like marriage, like life, is never smooth.  There’s always something to work differences.

      Money is an intense subject for most couples.  Sounds like the two of you are opposites with the way you view money.  Differences are great and are opportunities to be more flexible, to be open and curious to try to understand our spouse’s point of view.

      You both sound wise when you agree to try to understand each other’s viewpoint.  My guess is there might be a happy medium ground; and one that honors both of your needs, which goes way underneath the superficial surface of “money“.

      Thanks so much for sharing and good luck with your next forty years.  Sounds like you both have a lot of love, commitment and tenacity.


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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Katie O'Neill wrote Mar 26, 2009
    • I loved your story and I would love to see Oprah cover just such a topic!  My children learned many lessons too from our divorce and have thanked me on occasion for leaving their father.  We agreed the one thing we would refrain from doing was bashing each other in front of the kids.  We never have and to this day - post divorce 17 years - haven’t.  They know why we divorced and make their comments but all the time knew we loved them very much and while the dynamic of the family was changing - out love and concern for them never changed.  I think many adult children of divorce are bitter and upset because their parents most likely weren’t grown up enough to keep it civil.  The children don’t need to be dragged through the mud with the ex’s, etc.  Anyone who I know was a product of a divorce and whose parents kept it civil, doesn’t carry around the unwanted baggage from the divorce.

            Report  Reply

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