I have written before on how we, as Catholics, too often remain silent on ways to support children of divorce. This is the first installment in a three-part series that aims to break this silence and provide practical ways for children of divorce to begin healing, as well as to help our fellow Catholics better understand our experiences.Julia Hogan, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), shared with me some of her professional, practical wisdom for children of divorce:
How have you seen women, in particular, be impacted by their parents' divorce? Have you noticed any common struggles or difficulties?
JH: Judith Wallerstein conducted a well-respected longitudinal study which found that children of divorce can experience fears and struggles stemming from their parents' divorce in their adult relationships. For example, a child may grow up believing that because their father was unreliable and emotionally volatile, that all men will be, and this impacts their own romantic relationships. Having trouble trusting seems to be a common theme for adult children of divorce (although, we all struggle with that sometimes!).
Children of divorce can experience fears and struggles stemming from their parents' divorce in their adult relationships.
If someone is deeply struggling with the impact of their experience, where might you suggest they seek support and healing?
JH: Working with a competent therapist can help you work through your experience of being a child of divorce and make a successful plan to modify your current approach to relationships. Sometimes, we focus so much on past relationships that we forget to focus on the relationships right in front of us.
Some children of divorce may worry that they are doomed to have a failed and/or unhappy marriage. What would you say to a woman who has that fear?
JH: No one's future is predetermined. While we can't control some of the things that happen to us, we can control our response to it. In other words, even if you are affected negatively by your parents' divorce, you aren't automatically going to have a failed and/or unhappy marriage. Being aware of how you are impacted by your parents' divorce is a critical step in taking control of your own future and relationships. Sometimes, we don't even notice how we have been impacted by our parents' divorce and so a competent therapist can help you identify those things. Remember though that, even if you are affected by your parents' divorce, it doesn't have to define you.
Being aware of how you are impacted by your parents' divorce is a critical step in taking control of your own future and relationships.
Have you witnessed women become stronger as they take stock of their experience as children of divorce? If so, what facilitated their growth and healing?
JH: Forgiveness, though hard to do, is very important in the process of healing from the impact of divorce.
What do you think we can do, as Catholics, to better support children of divorce?
JH: I think that Catholics have a unique gift of healing to offer to children of divorce.
Here are my three main takeaways from Julia’s words of wisdom:
1) Self awareness is vital.
The first step in healing is recognizing how we are impacted by our parents’ divorce. A good therapist can help us identify this impact if we have trouble doing so on our own (and there is no shame in that!).
2) Look forward.
Learning from our past is essential; at the same time, we must also focus on what is “right in front of us,” as Julia said. From time to time, we can glance back and see how far we have come in our healing.
3) You are you, not your parents.
Julia’s words, “No one's future is predetermined,” give me much hope - I hope they do the same for you. We can have a different story and a different marriage than those of our parents. By increasing our self-awareness, seeking professional guidance when needed, and learning from the past, divorce does not have to be in our future.
Keep reading part two of this series: stories from fellow Catholic women who are themselves children of divorce.