31 January 2005

Single...With Children: "This Is What It Looked Like To Me"

Single With Children: Teen's divorce perspective sobering

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 07/14/04

A few days ago, I had a chat with one of my son's friends who also is the son of divorced parents.

He recently had made the decision to spend his senior year living with his father, which means he will be attending a different school.

I asked him whether this was his choice, and he said it was. I found it interesting that a teenager would voluntarily transfer in his last year of school. It would mean a new group of friends, a new household, a new room and a whole new routine. He said it wasn't a slight against the mother he has lived with since the divorce, which happened when he was 12 years old. He just decided he wanted to live with his father for a year rather than two weekends a month and rotating major holidays.

Of course, this triggered a lot of questions and, considering that his folks have been divorced for more than five years, I asked him if he would be comfortable talking about his experience. He kindly obliged.

The exchange was sobering and I learned a lot.

First of all, I wondered whether he had seen his parents divorce coming or had it been a complete shock? He said he knew it was only a matter of time. He finds it unbelievable that most parents seem to think such news will be some huge surprise. He said we, as parents, tend to forget that most of the disagreements aren't so quiet and the tension can be thick. He told me the signs are much more apparent than most of us would ever guess and by the time the news is revealed, it's almost a relief, especially if things have become particularly unpleasant, and most of the time they have.

I asked him whether he was consulted about which parent he would prefer to live with, and he said he was never asked. He said he felt he should have been. He said it would have just been nice to have felt he had some control over his future.

I wondered about the relationship between his father and mother, and he said, "They pretty much hate each other. There are always two sides to the story. The biggest problem for me was trying to decide who was right and who was wrong."

Did he uncover the answer? In forthright fashion he replied, "I was very curious to know the truth at first, but what would it change if I found out? Nothing. Besides, technically, it's none of my business."

A 17-year-old, soon to be high school senior, exhibiting remarkable maturity and common sense. Divorce probably demands that kids grow up faster and deal with complex issues sooner than should be required.

I was almost afraid to ask, probably out of fear that I had made the same mistake, but I wanted to know what had been the hardest part of the whole experience. I should have guessed the answer.

"I hated the going back and forth, always hearing both sides of everything and listening to one of my parents tear apart the other. It hurts to hear mean comments about your mom and dad, especially when they are coming from your mom and dad! I got really sick of being put in the middle."

Ouch. I've always felt grateful I had a very civil divorce and, for the most part, I believe I did, but I am sure there had to be times when I was overheard saying something that wasn't terribly flattering or was needlessly unkind about my kids' father. Civil is not to be confused with perfect and, as we all know, perfect does not exist where humans are concerned.

I was told it helped a lot when his parents reminded him, more than once, that the divorce was not his fault. Even though he didn't really think it was, he said it was nice to hear.

Finally, I asked my young interview subject what advice he would give to parents considering a divorce. He thought for a few minutes and said, "I'd tell them to remember that they are adults and that their kids know far more than they, as parents, can hide or cover up. Kids know when their parents are lying. Their children love both of them, and they aren't asking for a divorce. And I would tell them that it should be a crime to try and make their children take sides because that's not playing fair."

When I asked whether, five years after his parents legally divorced, he still feels as if he's placed in the middle, he didn't hesitate: "Every day."

There's something very wrong about that.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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