Dear Mom and Dad,
Yes, I am addressing you both in the same sentence, because even though you are divorced, to me you are still Mom and Dad. I just want you both to know how much I love you. Things have been really crazy and I need to get a few things off my chest. You being divorced has really been hard on me. I remember how you argued so much that most of the time I parented myself. I was so scared … When you fought, I felt so invisible.
I will never forget one Saturday night; it was a “Dad weekend.” Dad, you said that I couldn’t go out, so of course I called Mom. I knew that would start things going. You know Dad; you didn’t notice that I left the house. You went to sleep that night, like every other night assuming that I was in my room. The door was always closed, and you never opened it to say goodnight. I used to wait, but then I realized it wasn’t happening. I went to a party.
This party had drugs and drinking. I may as well tell you now, because I wanted so badly to tell you then, that I didn’t touch anything just like we talked about when I was younger and you guys were together. It was 2 a.m. and you didn’t answer your phone, what was that all about? Dad, I needed you to be there. I so badly wanted to talk. It was your weekend and I had to call Mom.
Mom why did you argue with me about coming to get me? You didn’t believe that I called my father and you put me on hold while you tried him for 10 minutes. I was using someone else’s phone, of course, because you disagreed about who should replace the phone I broke. Remember Dad? You said, “What happens at your mother’s stays at your mother’s.”
Mom, you finally agreed to pick me up. You were screaming about how it wasn’t fair, it was your weekend off. Then your whole speech about my father–did it occur to you that he is half of me? I really wanted to leave the party, but when you were screaming in the car, I wished that I could go back in.
Funny thing, Dad, you didn’t even ask me where I was, or what I was doing. That scared me. In truth I felt like I didn’t exist. I kept thinking, when would my father notice that I wasn’t home? I normally didn’t roll out of bed till 11 on Sunday mornings. Who knows where I could have been by then? And Dad, as panicked as you would be, you certainly wouldn’t call Mom to ask her if I was there. You would be afraid that she would call you on neglect. I was 16; I needed you to stop fighting over me and take care of me.
In truth I am so sorry for both of you. It would have been so simple if I wasn’t born. I didn’t ask for this. I am the baggage that remains connecting the two of you. Oh I know that you both love me, but isn’t love more than just words and an occasional hug? Didn’t you see that in between your fight, I was suffering? I always had to choose sides, and that was impossible. It’s like having to choose between my right or my left hand. I could never embrace the world without both. When you hurt each other you were hurting me.
Oh, and money. You always argued about who needed to give me money, I understand Mom; it was Dad’s obligation to give you money for me. He said that you used it on something else. I cared? I needed money. So I baby-sat, and shoplifted. Where do you think I got the new things that I have? Another talent I can thank divorce for. I am ashamed to say that I am really good; it comes in handy when you guys can’t decide to pay for major items like sneakers and stuff. I worked weddings as a waitress. How I dreaded seeing one of my friends at a wedding. But then again I am the girl from the “broken home.”
Was I supposed to get used to this? I remember when you wouldn’t let Daddy step in to the restaurant and give me my birthday card, because it was YOUR time. I never got that card because Dad went on a trip and we all forgot about it.
Dad, when you withheld money from Mom, who do you think suffered? I almost missed my eighth grade trip because you and Mom couldn’t settle who should pay. I held my bags on my lap the whole trip because the payment came last minute, thanks Mom for giving in, and I know it was grandpa that gave you the money. Shame on you Dad, 8 years in school, I needed that trip.
All those calls you never made, Dad. Or the times I sat in the school office waiting for you to pick me up, Mom. That made me feel really invisible. I always used to think of things that I could do to pay you back for carrying my burdensome existence.
The worst were holidays after divorce. I was transformed into an item to be transferred. Sort of a power tool, I have here, you would think. I still cry about not being at Bubbie’s funeral, because I was at the hotel with you Dad. The only way I could go would be if Mom would send me a ticket.
I never said goodbye to my dear Bubby. I even tried to borrow money from some of your friends on the trip. What amazed me was that they didn’t tell you that I was so desperate. Were they blind? Didn’t they see? Didn’t you see? They all felt that it served her right. Was I invisible?
Why am I writing you? No dad I don’t need money, and by the way, thanks for taking care of the college bill. I guess I just wanted to write, because I have been dating a lot of guys lately. To tell you the truth, I have been dating too many guys lately. So I wanted to thank you both for my distorted view on relationships. Thanks Mom, for teaching me that men are selfish pigs who need to pay for everything. And of course I thank you for the fact that I cannot look at a guy who is not making a six-digit salary. There was this great guy who I really liked, but I just couldn’t see him any more because his job just couldn’t “cut it.” Then again, Dad, you had money but you didn’t give it to us. Go figure.
Dad, I want to thank you for the fact that no matter how much attention I get, I always feel like I am missing something. I always get depressed when I am alone, because I remember all of the silent times when I used to visit.
I want to thank you both for my inflexible nature, and my possessive nature when defending my stuff. I have lost so many friends because I am so territorial, and dominating, that I owe both of you equally. My friends tell me that I am unattached, and that I never form close relationships. Maybe that’s because we moved so many times, and always had to say goodbye to our friends. I remember Mom, “Never look back”–you used to say that. Remember Doggie, he went away when we went to an apartment. Ma, did you really send him to a nice family? I used to cry worrying that he should be ok.
Well, in truth, it all worked out for both of you. You are both remarried, Dad, you twice, and you got the happily ever after. As for me? What does the future hold? It is Saturday night, and I am alone, because I got sensitive about which movie they chose. I got angry, and they all went out without me, they have no patience for my sensitivity. But in truth thanks to my childhood, I can handle anything. I sit here alone telling myself thatthey have problems, not I. I guess its all part of the legacy of divorce.
Comments by Dr. Simcha Y. Cohen, Psy. D.:
Many of those who reviewed this article asked if I was the product of divorce. I answered emphatically no. My knowledge is from working with so many children who suffer from their parents’ irresponsibility toward them. Every situation here was based on a real case that I encountered, there was no exaggeration or embellishment. In Judith Wallenstein’s monumental work published on her research, she said that that divorce can cause significant life altering effects. (Wallenstein 2000).
I am not against divorce. But I believe that there should be strict guidelines that protect the children from the emotional trauma that parents often inflict by their behavior and attitude.
Before any divorce negotiation, both parents must make a commitment to see that the divorce will not be at the expense of the children’s mental and emotional health.
During a divorce, we adults, must take responsibility for our behavior and our actions, and realize that at all times we are dealing with our child’s parent. Abusive behavior–whether verbal, emotional or physical–harms the child when one parent inflicts that abuse on the other.
The foremost priority of divorce should be the well being of the child. The second focus should be on future goals to improve relationships that affect our children after divorce. Parents that feel their sacrifices are greater than their ex-spouse’s should realize that divorce is not a war you have to win.
If your children see that their needs and worries are more important to each of you than which parent comes out ahead, they will grow up to be better-balanced human beings, with the ability to give and receive love.
Rabbi, Dr. Simcha Y. Cohen is the Director of The Total Learning Center in Brooklyn, New York. The Total Learning Center provides multi level services for families. This current article is part of a soon to be published book on the subject of children and divorce. Dr. Cohen can be contacted at DrSimchaYCohen@aol.com or 718-336-8000 1633 East 7th Street Brooklyn, New York 11230
Rabbi Dr. Simcha Y. Cohen