How to Deal When Your Parents Want to Get a Divorce
It can either come as a shock or as something you've already been expecting, but when your parents tell you they're splitting up, you will definitely be affected.
When 17-year-old Tricia* found out her dad was leaving home for good, she retreated into herself and didn't let anyone know what she was going through. "I was so scared that my friends would look at me differently," she shares. "At the same time, I didn't want to show my family that I was gravely affected by what happened. I acted as if everything was okay but deep inside, I was acting out. I needed someone but I didn't have the courage to tell anyone how I really felt. Then reality kicked in, and I started hating my father for what he did to me and my mom."
Mandy*, 19, was only six when it happened, but she remembers how she felt. "I was angry a lot and sometimes I wouldn't even be able to explain what was wrong," she says. "Since my siblings are so much older than me, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it."
Twenty-three-year-old Amy*, however, was used to her dad not being around so it didn't really change things. "I remember my mom saying my kuya and I were surprisingly emotionally mature about the whole thing," she says. "There was no rebellion, no drama, except for one afternoon when my dad’s mom cornered me to convince them to get back together. I think I started to talk to my dad and then thought, nah, what's the point?"
More common than you think
Though it may feel like you're the only one who lives with a single parent, that isn't true. According to a study by the Department of Health (DOH) and the University of the Philippines-National Institute for Health (UP-NIH), out of 94 million Filipinos, 14 to 15 percent are single parents. "It's good to remember that you aren't the only one going through it," says Mandy.
Former grade school and high school guidance counselor Nympha Banzon says there is hardly any stigma anymore when parents separate. "There's been an increase in the number of broken families," she explains. "Teens who are victims of this can find strength and consolation from friends who can identify."
When a parent leaves, one of the first issues to settle is where the kids are going to live. Both Tricia and Amy live with their moms because their fathers left them. But Mandy's situation is more complicated. "Through grade school and half of high school, I was going back and forth between houses," she explains. "I even remember being stressed at first because the days of the week aren't even—I couldn't split my time evenly."
Things changed when Mandy entered high school and practicality won out. "I now live with my dad and I see my mom on weekends," she says. "She lived too far from school, my dad was the one who had a driver, and he was also the one who supported me financially. It was just the simpler thing to do."
You may also find yourself saddled with extra emotional baggage because when your parents split up, your heart does, too. "Most of the time, both parents still attend to their kids even if they have separate lives," says Banzon. But this is not always the case. You might find yourself preferring the company of one parent over the other, which is what happened to all three girls.
"I've always been much closer to my mom," Amy shares. "We have a great relationship and she's always been there for me. I see my dad less than five times a year. We e-mail and text but it never goes beyond the 'kumusta na, okay lang ako' point.”
"While growing up, I got used to my dad not coming home every night," says Tricia. "So when he left, it didn't really make that much of a difference to me. The only time I see my father is through the computer screen."
Mandy, however, has to live with her dad and she says it's not easy. "Living with just one parent can be hard because there's no balance in terms of authority. My dad is all about being forceful and insensitive when he has to be. My mom is more good-natured and understanding, and it's a lot easier to talk to her. Seeing her on the weekends is sort of like my happy break from my dad."
The upside to living with a single parent is that you usually grow very close to one another, but this can also force you to grow up faster. Since she was seven, Tricia knew her dad had other women. "But it wasn't till I was in high school that I fully grasped what was happening," she shares. "Ever since I was a kid, my mom never hid anything from me—not even my father's infidelity. The truth was hard to take, but at least I didn't grow up living a lie."
When a single mom starts confiding in her child, she could be unknowingly using that child to fill the space her husband left behind. In cases like this, Banzon suggests, "Be sensitive to what she is going through." If it makes you uncomfortable, talk to her about it. Your mom is probably unaware of her actions and may need a heads-up.
Living with a single parent doesn't just force you to grow up sooner, it can also affect the person you will become. "The separation really influenced my views," says Amy. "I decided in high school that I will never get married unless divorce is legalized here. I don't see the appeal of tying myself down even if I'm really, really in love because a long-term relationship is not for everyone. I can't picture myself having a long-term relationship with a boy, how much more a marriage? Yes, I have trust issues."
"I would like to think living with one parent has made me a better person," says Tricia. "After my father left, I let go of my fears. After all, what could be worse than losing your father to another woman? So I started doing the things that I love with no doubts. I became a much stronger person who is ready to take on any challenge head on. And I became closer to God."
"Living with my dad forced me to be independent and responsible," shares Mandy. "But being with my mom, even if it wasn't all the time, also meant that I had to learn how to be considerate and kind."
Banzon stresses that the way parents handle the situation makes a big difference in how the children are affected. But if your parents didn’t handle it very well, know that it's not too late. You can still take charge of yourself and turn your life around. As Tricia says, "Let go of your anger and forgive. And most importantly, turn to God. Nothing beats a meaningful prayer as the one-way ticket to feeling whole again." Though you may feel broken today, trust that you will emerge from this a stronger, better person.
*Real names withheld.
Former guidance counselor Nympha Banzon gives tips on how to get through your parents' split.
- Love and appreciate yourself.
When life throws you a curveball, it won't break you if you're secure in who you are. Focus on your talents and do things that make you happy.
- Learn to depend on yourself.
Try not to grow too attached to other people. Start to rely on yourself. Being independent can be very empowering.
- Remember that it's not your fault.
If the separation is fairly recent, remind yourself that it did not happen because of you. Mandy says, "There's a reason that they split up and chances are it’s better for everyone that way."
- Stay away from vices and from people who may bring you down.
It's very easy to give in to mind-numbing vices to distract yourself from all your negative emotions, but stay strong. You don’t want to make your problems bigger than they already are.
- Have faith and know that God is with you.
Even if you feel alone, you aren't. You can always pray to find comfort and hope that things are going to get better.
This article was originally published in the October 2012 issue of Candy Magazine.