“When Parents Divorce,” New Era, Aug. 2000, 40
The news came one spring afternoon when I was a college freshman. My parents, who’d been married in the temple 20 years ago, were officially divorced.
That night, I huddled in my bedroom, bearing adult-sized problems on my shoulders. I couldn’t believe my parents would never live together again. I also realized that gone was the future I had taken for granted—Mom and Dad side-by-side attending my temple marriage someday, or together sharing their joy over grandchildren.
Negative feelings clouded my mind. I had doubts about my ability to make a marriage work. I feared ward members and friends would consider me spiritually inferior because of my family’s problems. I worried that family members would fall away from the Church. And worst of all, I was lonely because we were each withdrawing into our own shells of pain.
It’s been years since that difficult night, and now I have good news. With the Lord’s help and with the support of caring family and ward members, I’ve worked through the trial of my parents’ divorce, and my life is very happy.
I have regained eternal hope, have learned to communicate and function well with both parents separately, and have been able to establish my own happy temple marriage. Other Latter-day Saint youth affected by their parents’ divorce have done the same, and I’d like to share our experiences.
Some young people may be tempted to fall away from the Church after their parents’ divorce. They may feel inferior to Church members with happy, “normal” families, or they may not attend church simply because their parents have stopped going.
Steve* was 15 when his parents divorced. When his family split up, Steve drifted into complete inactivity. Today, he recommends that teens lighten their burdens by staying close to the Lord. “Getting out of the Church is not the way to find relief,” he says. “Life is a rocky road, and you need all the help you can get.”
Steve says that when his parents divorced, he felt betrayed. “We were Latter-day Saints, and divorce was not supposed to happen to us. But by leaving the Church, I made things a lot tougher on myself. You need the Holy Ghost with you.” Steve eventually returned to activity, which led to his temple marriage and a happy family of his own.
Tara was seven years old when her father moved out. She and her brother grew up with their mother. Staying active in the Church, she says, has brought tremendous blessings to her family.
Home teachers have given priesthood blessings and made special efforts to help around the house. One Church member even finished a bedroom in the basement for Tara’s family.
But the greatest blessing has been Tara’s spiritual growth. Through daily prayer, she has regained peace of mind. “I do have a testimony of the gospel. I know for a fact that I have a Heavenly Father who cares about me and answers my prayers,” she said.
Divorce is painful for parents, and it can be just as difficult for children. Teens can handle divorce better if they realize their parents’ divorce is not their fault. Children often say, “If only I had done this or that, if only I had been a better person, maybe my parents would still be together.” But this kind of guilt is always misplaced.
Karen, whose parents divorced when she was in high school, says, “It’s a heavy burden packing your parents’ problems around. I don’t have to suffer for their mistakes, and I know that now.”
Divorce may make you feel you’re losing everything you considered familiar and safe. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, trying to study, as my dad moved his personal belongings from the house. His shirts, his books, his grooming items—everything seemed so misplaced in the back of his truck.
Christmas traditions were turned upside down as we tried to spend time with both Mom and Dad—separately. Important things like eating dinner all together or attending church as a whole family no longer existed. Too many changes at once can be overwhelming. In times of instability, remember there are strong, stable resources all around you.
Karen received help from her grandparents. They listened compassionately and showered their love on her. “I found great comfort in things that were stable,” she says. “I was drawn to people who had regularity and routine in their lives.”
Mark was in high school when his parents divorced. He says his solid Church friends stayed close to him. “Even though my mother did not stay active, I have always maintained my testimony. A lot of that was due to the support of my friends. There was always someone there to hold me up,” he says.
Children of divorced parents must remember that the gospel message is one of hope and healing. Our lives will not be perfect and may not always meet the ideal. Through Christ’s Atonement, we have an opportunity to turn weaknesses into strengths. Although with our finite vision, the breakup of a temple marriage may seem unredeemable, leaving a gaping hole in our family’s eternal progression, we must trust in God’s promises to the faithful. If we fulfill our covenants and endure to the end, we will gain eternal life and all of the blessings that it entails.
The ideal marriage of a man and woman sealed together and bonded in love deserves our emulation, whether or not we’ve seen an example of that in our own home. When something fails, that does not give us an excuse to give up.
Steve believes children of divorced parents can learn from their parents’ mistakes. “I believe I have gained insight,” he says. “I’m aware that everything needs hard work.”
You can cultivate the characteristics important in a healthy relationship even if you haven’t experienced this in your home. Look to extended family members, Church leaders, or family friends for examples of happy marriages to emulate. Watch how they live the commandments, lovingly compromise, work through conflicts, and help each other succeed.
Some teens may feel that if they’re strong enough, divorce won’t make them feel sad. Teens who’ve worked through their parents’ divorce say that if you don’t grieve over your parents’ divorce, you may repress anger, which could lead to problems in the future.
Karen says she pretended to be happy and carefree for several years after her parents’ divorce. “I watched my brothers and sister grieve and thought they were being melodramatic. It’s not that big of a deal, I thought. I couldn’t see that I was in major aftershock; I covered it up and ran from the problem.” Karen believes it took her longer to work through the pain because she tried to repress it at first.
John was a young boy when his father left home. Even as a teenager, if he doesn’t discuss his feelings occasionally, his anger seems to fester.
“Sometimes it builds up so much that I won’t say anything to anyone,” he says. “Then I’ll completely blow up. You need to talk things over with somebody who loves you.”
It’s okay to cry about a divorce and to feel the loss deeply. It’s healthy to admit things have changed. Then, when you’ve acknowledged and worked through your difficult feelings, it’s easier to move on.
When two people divorce, communication between them can degenerate. This can pose problems for the children, who may feel caught in the middle over decisions as to where they will live, when they will visit, who pays for what, and so forth. Teenagers should realize they can communicate their own needs and desires to both parents.
Steve has always tried to be honest with both parents about his feelings and preferences. In addition, “I just refuse to get in the middle of any disagreement or negativity. I have made that clear.” If one parent talks negatively about the other, Steve asks that parent to stop, asking to be excused from the room if necessary.
Andrea makes it clear that Church attendance is important to her. Although she stays with her father on weekends, she goes home on Sunday mornings in order to attend her home ward.
Talk with your parents about your preferences for arrangements, without whining or demanding. If your parents try to involve you in matters that confuse or frustrate you, ask to be left out of it. Your parents will appreciate your input because, in most cases, they want you to feel as stable as possible.
Remarriages may be even more difficult to accept than divorce. Remember that you are not being rejected when your parent chooses a new mate—you are loved as much as ever. I understand this more now that I have my own children. My love for them will never diminish, regardless of the circumstances.
My siblings and I have accepted both a stepmother and a stepfather into our lives. We have learned to love and appreciate both. I admit it was difficult to see our parents with new spouses at first, but with time they have become our special friends.
Young children believe a parent exists solely to provide them with life’s necessities, but as a young adult, you have an opportunity to broaden your view. You can see your parents as people who have as much right to marital happiness as you do.
You can’t go back. You can only go forward with new relationships and new ways of doing things. Make the best of your circumstances because such choices, namely whom and when your parents will remarry, are simply not in your hands.
It may take some time for the pain and anger to subside. Be patient with yourself and with your parents.
Your life can be beautiful. You can continue to develop a healthy relationship with each parent, being part of their lives in your own way. In addition, you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to create a loving environment for your own future family when you become a parent yourself.
It’s commendable to seek happiness. That’s what Heavenly Father wants for us. Always remember the words of His prophet, King Benjamin, “For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, … and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice” (Mosiah 3:4).