When I moved out of my parent’s house at 18, they were busy keeping track of my younger siblings and transitioning into my father’s retirement. I thought they would be married forever.
All the photographs from my childhood show us smiling on camping trips and sitting in my dad’s patrol car.
There were birthday cakes, Christmas trees and all of us piled in a boat with sunburned noses and giant grins.
They don’t show my dad’s short temper, his controlling behavior or my mom crying in the bathroom. It’s the confusing part of childhood, a slew of happy with a bit too much sadness sprinkled in.
My parent’s roles were defined by who the woman was and who the man was. There were no heated conversations, just my father yelling, my mother listening and all of us hiding.
My mom will fully admit to being a doormat in their relationship. She is kind to a fault and it was her job to take care of my dad and the three of us.
And by take care of, I mean do everything short of bringing home an income. She cooked, cleaned, sewed, did laundry, cared for us around the clock and ran all the errands.
My father worked and took care of ‘manly’ duties outside. Their commonalities began and ended with three of us.
My dad has always been a very affectionate person. It was the flip-side of his anger that made him so endearing.
As kids, we would roll our eyes when we found our parents kissing in the kitchen or our father playfully slapping mom on the rear end.
He brought her flowers and told everyone how lucky he was to have her. There was beauty in their love and while it wasn’t perfect, they both seemed happy and fulfilled.
The cracks started showing when the three of us became adults and their commonality moved out with us.
There were no longer three little humans who needed to be cared for and my mother began to feel isolated in her own home.
Being emotionally connected in any relationship is not a quality my father possesses and it was something that my mother began to desperately need.
She sought inspiration and found it in a life training program that she attended alone. She also found her voice and when she let it be heard, it fell on deaf ears.
My father was happy with the way things had always been; he didn’t understand why anything needed to be changed.
My mother was in search of an emotional connection with the man she had married and it became painfully clear after a few months that it wasn’t possible in their relationship.
They drifted apart and after nearly three decade of marriage, my mother moved out and filed for divorce. I was 30 years old.
I had been married for 7 years at the time, had two small children and my husband and I were attending marriage counseling.
My brother was dealing with a failed relationship and my sister had just returned from a summer living in the mountains with no communication.
We were all reeling from the fact that our family had become a statistic. We were broken. After the sadness and shock dissipated, there were lessons I was grateful to learn.
1. Speak your mind. When you don’t speak your truth, you are lying to your spouse. I watched my mother hold her tongue in fear of the repercussions and then my father wondered why she wasn’t happy. It’s not about fighting; it’s about being your truth so your partner knows where you stand at all times.
2. Love the one you are with. Twenty-nine years is a very long time to be in a committed, monogamous relationship and that takes work. I learned the value of loving the person you have married and being true to them in your heart, with your words and in your actions. My parents ended their relationship because they grew apart, not for lack of love.
3. Go on a date. My mother will admit that this was their biggest mistake, not getting to know each other over and over again. My parents had nothing in common but their children and once we were gone, there was nothing to talk about. My husband and I have a date night at least once a month and we take a one week vacation per year sans children. I know my children will leave, and when they do I want to know the person who stays.
4. Sometimes traditional roles work and sometimes they don’t. My parents had very traditional roles and for the most part, it worked. However, my father refused to let me mow the lawn and my brother can’t clean a tub to save his life. I don’t believe that is sustainable. My husband and I share all the responsibilities, including child rearing, cleaning, meals and yard work. We do jobs based on need, not based on gender.
5. Be willing to grow with your spouse. We all change. When my mother began to want more from her marriage, my father retreated. He wanted things the way they were. My husband and I see marriage counselors and we are both open about our fears and desires. Whether professionally, with our children, or within ourselves, we ebb and flow together.
6. Affection. Seeing my parent’s kiss, hold hands and laugh together was an important part of my childhood. In my marriage, I strive to let my husband know how much he means to me not only with words, but with touch. I will always be grateful to my parents for the tender moments they shared with us.
Divorce is a difficult reality. While I still have moments of wishing they had stayed together, my parents’ separation has become a blessing.
They are both happy, we celebrate holidays together, and they taught me how to make the most of the commitment I have made with my husband.
Image credit: Proclamation Pictures