Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I’m not sure why I’m writing to you or that you can even help me. I just know I need to talk to someone, someone who can keep my secret and possibly offer me some words of advise and comfort. My life is totally unbearable now and I feel like I’m losing it. Soon, other people will notice, if they haven’t already, I feel their eyes on me and I know they are wondering why I’ve changed so much. Even I see how much I have changed when I look in the mirror in the morning. Instead of the sixteen-year-old I used to be, I see the face of someone much older, with bags under her eyes from sleepless nights and a sullen, pallid expression.
Ever since I can remember, I have heard my parents fighting, but I guess I thought that was how all parents acted – at least until I started going to friends houses. I think I was nine-years-old when I went to my best friend’s house for Shabbos and I realized how wonderful and loving her parents were to each other and how close her family was. I thought they were the exception to the rule, that they were the odd ones, until my friend stopped coming over to my house. When I asked her how come that was, she said that she hated to come to my house for sleepovers, because of the way my parents yelled at each other late at night when they thought we were sleeping. She also said her parents wouldn’t let her come, but that I was always welcome at her house. With each such experience, it became more apparent to me that it was my family that was the exception.
When I was thirteen, my father stopped coming home some nights and my mother would yell at us kids. My younger sisters and brother would cry a lot and, I, being the oldest, tried to calm them down. I would take them into my bedroom, read them stories and get them ready for bed, so my mother wouldn’t have to do it. This meant I had no time to do my homework and study, until late at night, and there were times I didn’t complete assignments until lunchtime. I lost some friends because I didn’t have time to spend with them during the day and they thought I was being snobbish. I still had two close friends who invited me to visit with them, so I wasn’t totally lonely, but I was sad that I was not included in many group things after school.
Soon things got better at home, and my mother had another baby during that summer. But it did not last long. My parents went back to fighting and being at each other’s throats just as school began again, only now I had to look after the baby along with the three kids. It wasn’t long before war broke out between my parents and they filed for divorce.
My father moved out of the house and my parents stopped speaking to each other. I think the silence was more frightening than any fights they had and my mom was always tired and short tempered with us at the end of a day of court appearances, lawyers and mediators. I made sure to keep my younger sisters and brothers clear of her when she was like that and I managed to keep the little ones quiet while the long divorce was going on. My little brother who was then four years old started coming into my bed at night because he was afraid. He also started to suck his thumb and wet the bed almost every night, something he had stopped doing. Even though my Bubby and Zaidy came to stay with us, it didn’t change the fact that my siblings only wanted me. My school work and grades fell and I was always tired and often fell asleep during class. Yesterday, I was called down to the principal’s office and she gave me a warning, the second one in three weeks, that if I didn’t pull myself together and take school work seriously, she would be forced to fail me.
So here I am, telling you all the things I can’t tell my teachers, principals and friends because I am ashamed and don’t know what to do. Why do parents have to fight all the time? Why do adults get married if they don’t want to be with each other? And why, if they stop loving each other do they keep having children?
The scariest part for me is that when they get divorced, they divorce themselves from us too! Well, there you have all of it, so if you think that there might be a chance for this family, I would be happy to hear it. Thank you for listening.
I am heartbroken having read your letter and feeling your sense of isolation and fear. It is a huge burden you are carrying, a burden no child of any age should have to shoulder. Teenage years should be memorable in that they are years of discovery and maturity encompassed in a warm, loving and protective environment. This, sadly, has not been your experience. In your attempt to keep a sense of balance in your life, you serviced those around you at the expense of your own needs, something very few young people your age would attempt. So, it is no surprise that you have reached the point where you can no longer handle the load. It is amazing you have done so this long.
You asked three very important questions, to which there are no across the board solid answers. In truth, people get married, or should, when they are secure in and accepting of their chosen partner, and are willing to weather whatever life brings together. It would be wonderful if married couples would be willing to invest in their relationship the same care and attention they give their valuables.
One of the reasons why people have children when their marriage is on shaky ground, albeit faulty in its logic, is that they believe a baby will fix what is wrong. It seldom works.
What I will tell you is that even though your parents have stopped loving each other and divorced, they will always love you and your siblings.
I would encourage you to talk to both your parents about your feelings and hear their explanations, so that you will have a better and clearer understanding as to what caused the rift and get the answers you need from them. It would also be a great help if you could speak to your school social worker, if your school has one, to learn how you can draw strength and courage that will help you build your life in a positive and constructive way. You are an inspirational and wonderful young woman, with a great and loving heart and you will, in time, experience much joy and love in return.