DIVORCE
10/03/2012 01:34 am ET

Divorce Effect On Kids: How My Parents' Split Didn't Screw Me Up

We asked adult children of divorce to share how their parents’ splits affected their lives in the long run, for better or for worse. This story came to us from Anna Jones,* age 26 (As told to Natasha Burton.)

I found out my parents were splitting up at a "family meeting."

It would be the last family meeting we’d ever have. I don't remember what was said -- it’s all kind of a blur -- but I do remember how I felt. There was a sense of liberation because my parents fought a lot (honestly, all I remember was the fighting; I don't really remember any good times they had together.) But my relief was mixed with sadness: I was going to be part of one of those "divorced families."

I was 14 years old at the time. My two sisters, who were four and 17, went to live with my mom while I remained in our family home with my dad. This might seem odd but for me, it made sense. My dad always favored me and vice versa. My mom and I didn’t really get along then so I almost felt like my mom didn't want me to come live with her. But then, I didn't want to live with her, either. I didn't want to leave my comfort zone – I had friends down the street, plus the pool where I swam and played water polo was a minute away.

A couple years later, I returned from water polo practice one night and walked into the living room to find my dad sitting close to another man on our couch. In that moment I recalled something my older sister had said several months back: "You know, my friends think Dad is gay." I had completely brushed her comment off -- her relationship with him had never been good -- and I figured she was just being mean or trying to stir up drama.

But suddenly certain observations started to fit together like little puzzle pieces: the way he interacted with the cute waiter at dinner, how he’d started wearing tight shirts. The last piece was laid as my father stood up to introduce his friend. When the friend said "Hey sweetie, nice to meet you," in a tone I will never forget, I knew instantly that the man was gay. Which meant only one thing -- so was my father.

I remember going into my room and just sitting.

After my dad’s "friend" left, my dad came into my room and we had what seemed like the hardest conversation ever. I don't know what he said, I only remember that whatever he was saying was difficult to communicate.

At the time I admit I was embarrassed about my dad being gay: I never really had friends over in high school and didn't tell anyone except my best friend. In some ways his secret created a barrier between my dad and I, but this was only because of his inability to be open about it. Aside from him coming out to me, we never talked about it.

My dad tried to tell my older siblings that he was gay but I don't know how well that went over or how he did it because they were all out of the house. I didn't really talk to them about it when I was young – plus, since my dad didn't talk about it, so we didn't really either.

The only sibling I talked to about it was my little sister – because my dad never actually told her. When one of his boyfriends would come live with us, my dad would just call these men "his friends." So, I had to tell my sister what was really going on when she asked me about it. While I was frustrated with my dad’s inability to be open, I was empathetic toward him. I was more upset because my sister would get attached to each one of these men that lived with us. Then they would just disappear and she didn't know why and my dad wouldn't explain to her what was going on. That was unfair to her and it made me angry.

But, now, my family is open about the situation. I think my dad’s sexual orientation is more accepted now that he does not have the responsibility of raising a family. And it certainly helps that my dad is now married to one of the nicest guys I have ever met.

When I got older, the situation between my parents got clearer as well. When I was about 24 or 25, I learned that my dad’s sexual orientation was something that he and my mom had been dealing with ever since they were first married. (When I was younger, I just thought Oh, he all of a sudden became gay.) My mom found out my dad was gay a couple months into their marriage. He, however, had had gay tendencies and thoughts since high school, but I don't know if he acted on them when he was young. When I found out this information out I almost felt like their marriage was a façade and I also felt guilty because my mom told us that she and my dad had tried to stay together for the sake of the "family unit.”

That said, I wouldn’t have wanted to know the truth about their marriage -- or my dad – when I was growing up. I think knowing too many details could have made me draw away from my father. Plus, it was better not blaming one person – my mom or my dad -- for the divorce because this could have jeopardized my relationship with both of my parents.

I’ve realized as I grew up that, once you’re an adult, you connect with your parents on a different level. While we didn’t get along when I was younger, my mom and I have a great relationship today. Every so often she’ll apologize for “abandoning me” when she and my dad split, but I never saw it like that. I’m grateful that she spared me more years of lying in bed at night listening to her and my dad fight.

All things considered, I don't think their divorce screwed me up. But, everything is relative to our current position in life though, isn't it? If 10 years from now if things go horribly wrong in my life and I lose my ability to make good decisions and use good judgment, maybe then I will blame them and their divorce for it. Parents and childhood are an easy scapegoat -- no one wants to admit their own faults are truly their own. And maybe, in some cases, they’re not.

*Name has been changed

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