Editor’s note: The names of the students in this story have been changed.
One of Carrie’s worst memories is a happy moment at a friend’s house.
At dinner, Carrie watched the family with wide-eyed amusement.
The dog, lying on the rug, panted and lifted its head whenever anyone skittered by. The two baby brothers giggled and threw their food from their plates in a clutzy, sweetly indifferent manner.
Carrie’s friend sat across the table, laughing at the chaos. But, mostly, Carrie stared incredulous as the two parents smiled lovingly at one another, holding hands beneath the table.
Carrie was only 10 or 11 at the time of this event, and she remembers it as one of the worst times of her life.
“I just sat there,” said Carrie, now a sophomore at North Central. “I felt so dumb and wondered why my family couldn’t be like this.
“They were so happy and just smiley and all loved each other,” she said. “I was so used to my parents constantly fighting that I never thought about what a real family was like.”
Carrie’s parents divorced a few years later, the summer before her freshman year. Even though Carrie expected the divorce much earlier, it still devastated her.
“Sometimes I’d come home and they would be sitting up, talking quietly,” Carrie sighs, “I hoped they would be telling one another they were still in love.”
Sadly, divorce is an increasingly common factor in American families. Half of America’s children will have divorced parents before they leave home. Kids’ reactions, though, run from relief to devastation.
Carrie’s reaction epitomized violence. Aching for attention, she attempted to drag her parents’ attention to her by smoking cigarettes, ignoring curfews, skipping class, cursing at teachers and, once, even beating up a girl in P.E.
For a sweet moment, her parents would unhook their glares from one another long enough to tell her, “Knock it off.”
“God, I wanted them to notice me,” Carrie says. “I never even felt sorry for any of the other people I hurt because I’d be so happy they stopped fighting and for once agreed on something like punishing me.”
Their reprimands, however, did not keep them from finalizing their marriage. Strangely enough, after Carrie lived with only her mother and younger brother, a sense of peace drifted over her, and her caustic rebellion braked slowly to a stop.
Not all people react as strongly as Carrie. Some, calm and collected, take it all in stride. Dave, a junior at Ferris, is a perfect example.
“I guess I’m not your typical ‘divorced teen,”’ Dave says. “I never noticed any negative effect. If anything, I felt positive. They weren’t fighting anymore.”
While Dave, who was eight or nine at the time, remained affable and content, his older sister vented her anger. She went through a small rebellious stage, although not quite as dramatic as Carrie’s.
“I think what kids need to realize is that it’s not the parents’ fault, nor their own fault,” he advises. “And, more than likely, it will be better afterwards.”
But Ryan, a senior at Lakeland High, disagrees with Dave’s positive outlook.
“I probably wouldn’t say there was anything positive about the divorce,” Ryan says, almost bitterly. “I think they could have worked it out.”
Ryan’s parents obliterated their marriage when he was eight years old, and it came as a surprise considering they never once argued.
“They just kind of told my three older brothers and I, didn’t make a big deal out of it, leaving us all kind of surprised,” he said.
Ryan held no true grudge, and his reply to the actual divorce remained placid. The one truly annoying event was switching homes continuously from one parent to the other. Ryan rarely sees his mother now, who lives in Utah.
“Sometimes I’d wish they’d get back together, and everybody does every now and then,” Ryan says. “You miss the other person when your not with them.
“The good part is, both parents let you do different stuff, so you get a little bit of everything,” he noted.
Northwest Christian junior Kirsten agrees with the pain of having to separate families.
“I live here with my dad, my step-mom and one of my sisters. My other sister and my mom live down in California,” Kirsten explains, “Although I truly love my step-mom, she doesn’t fill the void of my real mother. I feel as if I have no true mother figure.”
Although merely six years of age, Kirsten felt the pain of the divorce and remembers it as if she was older.
“It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through,” she says. “They were rather secretive, although I could tell something was not right. My Dad was never home and my mom, sisters and I lived in several different areas, from a different state to a church to a women’s shelter. But they never fought.”
Initially, Kirsten was shocked. Her dad was a pastor and her mother heavily involved with the church, they seemed the most unlikely couple to actually get a divorce. When the initial shock of what happened hit her, she began acting out.
“I lived with my mom first, who is wonderful but not very strong, and I missed my dad. After six years I went back to my dad, did some pretty disgusting things for a fifth grader to do, and finally began to settle down,” Kirsten hesitates, sighing. “It’s a very sad event. I’ve lived half of my life with my mom and half with my dad.”
Kirsten found strength in her mother and father’s passion: the church. Believing “God has a plan and everything works out for the best,” Kirsten finds that she and her family have both grown immensely.
For both youth and adults involved in a divorce, a few students have some worthwhile advice.
“To parents, notice that a divorce is really damaging to most kids,” Kirsten warns, “and do not, for any reason, talk bad about the other parents in front of your children. My mom used to rip on my dad, and it took me years to get over the bad feelings I felt for my father. Instead, encourage them to love one another.”
Ryan also has some sound advice, although instead of to parents, his is aimed at youth victims of a divorce.
“Hang in there, make the best of it and try to be understanding to both parents,” Ryan states. “They’re doing the best they can do.”
Carrie’s advice also hits deep.
“Communicate with both parents, and, parents, make sure to communicate with your children,” she said. “The one thing hopefully both ex-husband and ex-wife have in common is the love they feel for their children.
“Make sure to never to ignore your younger generation during the divorce, and the love that was once there will remain.”