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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:
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.