We last heard from therapist Julia Hogan, LCPC on practical ways that children of divorce can heal from the wounds caused by their experiences. For this second installment in our three-part series, we turn to fellow Catholic women who have been there - who are there. They generously shared a part of their lives. To those of you who shared your stories and made this post possible - thank you.
If you want to better understand where children of divorce are coming from, this is for you.
If you want to learn how divorce can impact (adult) children - not based on statistics, but on real, lived experiences - this is for you.
How have you been impacted by your parents’ divorce?
Emma: It is a lasting impact, not just a one-time thing. While there are both positive and negative aspects to the divorce, it is something that has completely shaped my life, my relationships, and my identity.
Josephine: I am still untangling the impact, even though it happened 27 years ago. The most profound impact has been on the feeling that I am worthy of love. I have worked through a lot of that, but part of me is still really afraid of a serious relationship and getting rejected, which has made me hold back from being truly vulnerable and/or pursuing potential opportunities.
I am still untangling the impact, even though it happened 27 years ago.
Sydney: I think the way I saw the world was very different from other kids. They were more concerned about going to their friend's house or going to see a movie, but I was always more concerned with spending time with my family. Since the time was split from the start, nothing ever felt like enough. I also, for a short period of time, ended up in a really dark place because I thought that the divorce was my fault. They say that is very common in kids from divorce. There was a lot of struggle for me as I tried to figure out why nothing stayed together.
How has your faith been impacted?
Emma: I would not say the divorce caused me to doubt or abandon my faith, but being 9 years old, I did not know how to use my faith to help me get through it. I have never necessarily struggled with my faith, but there are times, even at my age now, that I still do not know exactly where I stand in my faith.
Holli: Divorce destroyed what little unformed, vague faith I possessed as a child. After their divorce, my parents each remarried new spouses, divorced, and remarried yet again. Each new upheaval stripped away a little more of my security, my innocence, my hope. Many years later when I ventured to draw near to God again, I felt defective. How could my faith be so weak? Mercifully, God did not leave me fluttering in the wind longer than necessary.
Many years later when I ventured to draw near to God again, I felt defective. How could my faith be so weak?
Josephine: It has been hard to fully understand what love means when it comes to God, and approaching God as a Father that desires my good. My parents' divorce happened in part because my father cheated and wanted to start a new life with another woman. So it has been hard to come to believe -- really believe -- in God as a Father that loves me, and in the reality of Christ's love and sacrifice for me, just as I am.
Sydney: For a while I struggled with my faith because I felt like the divorce was my fault and that no one, including God, would ever be able to handle all of my issues. But once I got older the divorce almost increased my faith. I grew in my love for Christ because He was constant when my life was inconsistent. It was really beautiful for me to be able to grow in His love and see my spiritual growth at my lowest points.
Marie: My family used to go to Mass regularly, but after the divorce that stopped completely. I was not confirmed until I made the decision to come back to the Church as a junior in college.
What particular struggles or difficulties have you faced as a child of divorce?
Holli: I suffered from chronic insomnia for years as a child. I never knew this was anything out of the normal until I had my own kids. I know now that it was a manifestation of severe anxiety. I also never understood what marriage was good for, or how to properly define marriage. When my relationship with my now-husband became serious, I told him that I would never marry, that I did not believe in all that.
I also never understood what marriage was good for, or how to properly define marriage.
Josephine: Growing up, it was hard to be in the middle of my parents. I felt that I had to mature very early and mediate between them. It put a lot of pressure on me and made things very confusing...two people that I loved deeply were at odds with each other, and I could not fix it.
Marie: I came back to the Church in college and, when my dad decided to get remarried, that was a point of contention since both he and his fiancée had previously been divorced with no annulment. I tried to explain Church teaching on divorce, remarriage, receiving the Eucharist, etc., and that led to a huge fight. It has been difficult for me to convey that I still love them while also affirming Church teaching.
How has your experience as a child of divorce impacted your vocation?
Emma: Being a child of divorce has presented both opportunities and challenges in terms of my vocation. I feel like the divorce helped me understand what I do not want in a future spouse, but at the same time helped me discover the qualities that I truly value in a partner. One challenge that stands out to me the most is trust. With how my parents' divorce panned out, I learned it was very difficult for me to trust people, especially when it came to romantic relationships. I have learned to overcome these trust issues by being honest with the people I have developed relationships with. I think it is better to be upfront about your experience with divorce because it gives others some perspective on who you are and why you are the way that you are.
I think it is better to be upfront about your experience with divorce because it gives others some perspective on who you are and why you are the way that you are.
Holli: I am still discovering new ways in which my parents’ divorce has impacted my life, particularly as my own children and marriage continue to grow, and as the contrast between my past and present grows increasingly stark. I am hypersensitive to the needs and best interests of my family, as well as my sense of responsibility within it. I am profoundly grateful that God has given me the opportunity to use my past as my guide.
Josephine: The divorce created some very deep wounds concerning worthiness, trust, ability to be vulnerable, fear, and cynicism. The biggest thing that has helped me overcome that is, little by little, facing fears in my interactions with others and praying for God's guidance, and taking regular time to thank God for everything He has blessed me with and bask in His love.
Sydney: I had a lot of issues believing that someone would stay with me. Then a very kind, loving, and faithful man came into my life and told me that, no matter what I said, it was not going to scare him off; now we are happily married. I think the divorce made me look for the right man and not just go out with anyone. It was absolutely for the better and I would not want my life any other way. There are always challenges, but there are always blessings that follow.Marie: I have learned so much about myself through therapy. I have a desire to get married and have a family, but I do have a fear of getting divorced. I do not have a role model in my own parents as to what marriage should be like, which is hard. I have a close married Catholic friend who I look to as a role model for what a holy marriage can look like.
Would you say that you have become stronger as you have taken stock of your experience?
Emma: Absolutely. Being a child of divorce is part of who I am, and I think owning that has helped facilitate growth and healing in me. While divorce is a terrible thing that I do not wish on anyone, I think children of divorce owe it to ourselves to acknowledge this broken part of us - that though we come from brokenness, we are resilient. That there is a chance for regrowth, for peace of mind and heart, for forgiveness. Personally, I think out of brokenness come the strongest, toughest people. My parents' divorce has only pushed me to one day seek a marriage that is healthy, strong, and faithful. When this time comes, I think my experience has prepared me for the day that my future spouse and I have our own kids; if anything, I will take my experience and use it to strengthen my family and teach them the meaning of resilience.
Josephine: Yes. For one thing, I think I am more resilient to negative experiences, even though sometimes I do not think I am. I have also been forced to find the silver lining in situations that are really bad on the surface. Despite all the pain of my parents' divorce, some good things have come out of it. My grandfather, and the way he was there for my mom, is still such an inspiration to me. It is a blessing to be able to see that something good can come out of something bad, even though that was initially very much a challenge to my faith and the Catholic worldview in general.
Sydney: Absolutely. There is no doubt in my mind that I am the woman I am today because of what I went through. I think the divorce took its toll on me, but then allowed me to be more compassionate, loving, and understanding. It also strengthened my faith and it was all worth it to be closer to Christ. I am proud of my life and, if I had not needed Christ so much, I am not sure I would have found the relationship with Him that I have now.
I am the woman I am today because of what I went through.
Marie: Yes. I think, as Catholics, we know that suffering is redemptive. I can say that my own experiences have helped me have empathy for others.
The impact of divorce on children can be - and often is - widespread; it may affect our friendships, romantic relationships, familial relationships, and even how we view the world. It might make us question our worth and wonder what we did wrong, or what is wrong with us. At the same time, we can become stronger and more resilient through our experiences, and even grow in our faith through them. Divorce’s impact manifests itself differently from person to person; this is why listening to individual stories is so crucial (when we are privileged to hear them). Thank you for listening to the stories described here.
Keep reading part three of this series: a letter to our fellow Catholics and children of divorce.
*Some names have been changed for those who wished to remain anonymous.