“When My Parents Split Up” is a HuffPost series that explores what it’s like to have your parents divorce at all ages, from infancy to adulthood. Want to share your experience as a child of divorce? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writer and life coach Shannon Bradley-Colleary was just two years old when her parents split up. Given her age at the time, she doesn't remember much about their divorce or their marriage.
"I don't remember them as a couple, but their coupledom lives on in me, and for that, I'm incredibly humbled and grateful," said Bradley-Colleary, who runs a blog called The Woman Formerly Known As Beautiful.
Below, the 50-year-old writer tells HuffPost more about her "messy, magical childhood."
Breaking The News:
My parents divorced when I was two. I don't have conscious memories of them together or of them breaking the news. I'm a little bit of both: I have my father's eyes and my mother's hands. I have her need for physical connection and laughter and his need for solitude and silence. I embody all of their beauty and their brokenness.
The First Few Years:
Their divorce wasn't a tragedy for me, because they both agreed they didn't want to be married anymore. But in the window of a year or so, right before they each met their next spouse, I felt like we were three separate islands.
My mom had to go to work at the local hospital so I stayed, during the day with an elderly sitter who insisted I observe naps alone in a darkened room, which seemed useless to me. And when I was with my dad every other weekend I felt like an object he loved, but didn't quite know what to do with. At the time, it must've been difficult to have to entertain a two-year-old daughter. I remember feeling worried about him. He seemed melancholy and a little lost.
Had my parents not divorced, I might not have developed my sense of responsibility for my parents' emotions. I didn't want them to be sad, lost or lonely. I wanted to solve those problems for them and, in some way, love them back to happy.
Sometimes growing up I felt like an astronaut orbiting Jupiter and Mars. I had to practice my angle of re-entry so I wouldn't be incinerated when I struck these two very different atmospheres -- mom's and dad's.
I also felt a sense of divided loyalties. If my parents didn't particularly agree with the other one's current lifestyle I'd often rat one side out to please the other. Not behavior I'm very proud of but still, as a 50-year-old woman, I wouldn't change a thing about my childhood. I'm grateful to have had my messy, magical childhood.
My parents both eventually moved on with other people: My mom married my second dad Guido. My dad married my second mom Gini. My stepmom helped me navigate adolescence, bequeathing me with my period starter kit.
Her Relationship With Her Parents Today:
We still piss each other off but the older I get, the more I realize it's my job to stop judging my parents for what I perceive to be their mistakes and to respect them instead. They came by their divorce honestly. They didn't mean to hurt me. And they've proven, again and again, to be people I'd respect, admire and want to emulate if they weren't my parents.
I think a huge part of recovering from your parents' divorce is to stop seeing them as 'mom' and 'dad' and to start seeing them by their given names. I'm at my best as a daughter when I remind myself that they are 'Kathy' and 'Craig;' that they had their own messy, magical childhoods with their own parents (one couple divorced, the other not) who were doing the best they could at the time.
To children of divorce I'd say, take care of yourself first. Not every divorce is equal. My parents' divorce was good compared to most. Cry as much as you need to after the split. Get your anger out in appropriate ways (punching bags or smashing tennis balls against a wall can be good), then move on with your life.
If your parents are toxic and continue to hurt you, wish them well on their spiritual journey and set off on your own as far away as you need to go. It's your life, after all.
But if the damage is forgivable, forgive them. See them as people, not parents, and take your relationship with them one day at a time.