There are fundamental truths most 5-year-olds understand about the world: The sky is blue. The grass is green. Your family consists of you, possibly siblings and your parents. But that truth is altered if your parents split up.
I was in kindergarten when my parents got divorced. They worked hard to make my reality as normal as possible, but even at a young age I knew something was different about my family compared to my friends’ families.
I wouldn’t change anything about our situation. My mom was my best friend growing up and is to this day; my dad got remarried and he and I gained an amazing family who we can’t picture our world without. The divorce didn’t give me a terrible life. What it did give me was invaluable insight ― especially when it comes to relationships.
The following is what people should know about loving a child of divorce, culled from my personal experience and expert advice:
We worry about commitment.
People whose parents split up might fret more about their serious relationship dissolving ― perhaps seemingly out of nowhere. That’s because our view of commitment may be altered by the divorce, according to Jane Greer, a New York-based marriage and sex therapist.
“Be aware that their feelings about commitment and getting married may have been impacted by the divorce,” Greer told The Huffington Post. “It might have made them reluctant to take the next step ... They may feel that it won’t work out.”
We crave relationship validation.
Kids of divorce may feel a greater need to know where they stand with their partner. The best way to do that? Open communication.
“They will do better when they have clarity about where things are going in the relationship,” Greer said. “Feeling secure allows for more openness and more personal sharing.”
And require patience ― particularly around holidays.
Two Christmases and two birthdays may seem like a sweet deal, but they also require a lot of coordination. We worry about this the first time we bring our significant other home because it can get a little hectic and we don’t want it to scare them away. But trust us, the reward of spending time with so many people (and the food and presents, of course) is worth it in the end.
Fights will sometimes scare us.
Kids who’ve grown up around fighting parents may not be the best at handling conflict. More specifically, we may be a bit averse to it because we fear we might be abandoned altogether.
“Children of divorce can sometimes be more sensitive during arguments as they may have witnessed their parents arguing in front of them,” Jacqueline Newman, a New York-based family law specialist, told HuffPost. “They may take more extreme positions and think that a small tiff could be the end ― simply because as children the fights they did see led to the ending of the relationship.”
But we know it’s okay to call it quits if the relationship isn’t working out.
Some of us may have come to understand in time why our parents decided to separate and know that it was ultimately the best decision for everyone involved. We may carry this lesson into our own relationships. We know divorce ― eventually ― isn’t the end of the world.
Our family dynamics will likely be more complicated than yours.
Some kids of divorce may be closer to one parent than another. This could depend on factors like the terms of divorce, who became the main caregiver and even how other siblings interacted with each parent, Newman said.
“I recommend that when dating someone who has this type of family connection that you try to understand it rather than be annoyed by it,” she said.
If our parents divorced when we were younger, we had to bounce back from a heavy situation earlier than most people our age.
“I think that children of divorce are often more resilient than children who grow up in intact families, because they have to be,” Newman said. “Depending on how the parents handle the situation, many children grow up way faster than they should and have to handle adult emotions in a way that they do not understand.”
We love hard.
Kids of divorce treat relationships with the gravity they deserve. We not only want love to be successful ― we’ll do everything we can to make it happen. That includes not settling, staying open and working through our own issues to make sure we’re approaching our unions in the healthiest possible way.
Because ultimately, we know relationships are worth it.