My Family: A Personal Reflection from a Child of Divorce
Marriage and divorce are typical experiences in America. Given this, much research has been done on both, especially about the effects that divorce has on children. Initially, children of divorce feel that their worlds are crashing down. For them, the divorce may feel as though they are grieving the loss of one of their parents. Children are in shock, and disbelief, and may even feel anger or resentment towards their parents. However, research has shown that their hostility or grief only lasts a short time. These feelings are alleviated when children are able to adjust and accept the new circumstances either by seeking professional help or by having parents who are perceptive of their needs and emotional state. Overall, I will reflect on my personal journey as a child of divorce, how certain protective factors and strengths led to my resilience in the light of this event, and how the divorce has shaped my identity today.
Recalling My Parents’ Divorce
When I think about divorce, the words that come to mind are separation, disconnect, and detachment. These words are exactly how I felt when my parents divorced. Not only did I lose having the ideal nuclear family that all my friends had, but I also lost a sense of myself. My mother filed for divorce from my father in 1999. After five years of battling which parent would be given the right of full custody over me in court and completing psychological testing, my parent’s divorce was finalized in 2004. The judge ruled in favor of my mother and granted her full custody of me. Under court order, I was required to see my father every Tuesday and Thursday, spend every other weekend with him, and also split holidays with both of my parents. My mother was relieved to be divorced, however, she was also disappointed that her marriage was not successful. My family responded to the divorce with joy that my mother had finally escaped the mistreatment that she suffered from my father, but I was lost and tossed in the middle of their divorce. I felt as though I was a ping pong ball, being bounced back and forth from my mother’s house to my father’s house. It was not until I was eighteen years old that I was truly able to start living my life because this is when the court order was lifted.
Strengths of Family Members. During the divorce and even after it, my family was an immense source of strength for my mother. I would even say that I was a source of strength for her because I gave her a reason to keep going in life. To this day she always tells me, “even though the marriage ended in divorce, the one good thing that I got out of it was you.”
The strengths that my family members exhibited during this event were that they were supportive, sympathetic, and compassionate. All of my family supported my mother’s decision to get a divorce from my father since she was mistreated and miserable in the marriage. My grandmother was supportive of my mother because she allowed my mother and me to move into her house after the divorce.
Additionally, my grandmother and her sister were supportive because they helped my mother raise me. As a nurse, my mother worked twelve-hour night shifts and it was my grandmother along with her sister who watched me and continued to take care of me when my mother was working so that she would be able to support me financially. I think it was the strengths that my family possessed during and after the divorce that enabled my mother to rebuild herself. For the most part, I believe that my family had a significant influence on my development and how I came to be the person I am today.
Cultural Influences. One major cultural influence that affected my family’s experience of the divorce was their Polish heritage. Being Polish, my family was raised with the belief that no matter what happens, family sticks together and helps each other out. We look out for one another and are very family-oriented. Specifically, in Poland, the family is at the very center of people’s lives. Along with this, family members outside of the nuclear family in Poland play a main role. Grandparents are always very close to their grandchildren and involved in their lives, which is what my grandmother exhibited by helping raise me.
Another cultural influence that affected my family’s experience of the divorce was their Catholic religion. Throughout the divorce and after my family relied heavily on their Catholic religion as a basis for consolation, strength, and rediscovering their sense of self by praying and going to church (Walsh, 2010). With this in mind, the way my family responded to my mother’s divorce and supported her can be traced back to their Polish heritage and Catholic religion.
Risk and Protective Factors
The risk factors that affected the likelihood of my family experiencing the divorce as mentioned by Davies (2011) were that my mother was being mistreated by my father, their marriage was high conflict (arguments), and my father did not know how to take care of a child (impaired parenting), and also that my father was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (mental impairment). Due to all of these risk factors, not only did the likelihood of my parents getting a divorce increase but also did the likelihood that my family would have to experience the divorce.
Protective Factors. As for protective factors, my grandmother provided my mother with warmth and support. Another protective factor was that I had supportive caregiving such that my mother was taking care of me, but also my grandmother too. As for my mother and I, we both had many supportive factors in our lives during and after the divorce. Not only did I form a secure attachment relationship with my mother, but I also formed one with my grandmother, which fostered my resilience. It was because of their responsive parenting by consistently meeting my needs that I was able to overcome the divorce and accept it as a part of my life. With this in mind, the relationship that I had with my grandmother after the divorce was a major protective factor because she helped me emotionally cope with my feelings and was there for me when my mother could not be (Davies, 2011).
Oppression. Oppression was not a factor in my family’s experience of the divorce for a few reasons. One reason was that my mother was educated and had a career. Being educated, my mother knew what resources were available to her in order to file for a divorce and have it finalized. Another reason was that she was independent and able to support herself, along with me due to her career as a nurse. However, in other cultures divorce is not an option and women are the property of their husbands. Based on my family’s cultural upbringing, divorce was accepted if you were being mistreated.
On the opposite side, when looking at the divorce from my father’s perspective, I would say that he was oppressed even though he was educated, had a career, and had his own house. My father was oppressed after the divorce because he missed out on so many milestones and time with me since the court gave full custody to my mother.
Empowerment and Systems
One way that my family felt empowered was when my mother was granted full custody of me because my father was incompetent of fully being able to meet my needs. Also, given that my father was diagnosed with a personality disorder, the judge felt as though this was not the most suitable environment for my psychological development. The larger social system that had given my mother the right to full custody was the legal system, which is an aspect of the macrosystem. An example of a law that the legal system upholds pertaining to divorce is that a child has no say as to when or which parent he or she wants to spend time with until the age of eighteen. I also think my mother felt empowered since she was able to work full-time as a nurse and also raise a child as a single parent at home. This empowerment she felt would be an interaction between microsystems.
Systems Involved in the Divorce. One major system involved in the divorce for my mother was the community of the Catholic church, which is an aspect of the mesosystem. My mother told me that when she was debating whether or not to file for divorce she would speak to a priest and ask for advice. The priest told her that if she is not happy and the high conflict in the marriage can affect the child, then it is best for her to get a divorce. Another key aspect of the mesosystem was family. After the divorce, my mother relied on her family not only for support and empowerment but also for help in raising me. In order to file and finalize the divorce, my mother depended on the legal system (macrosystem), especially attorneys and judges. As for how my family responded to the divorce, a major aspect that influenced how they reacted was their Polish values (macrosystem) such that family helps each other out, which is what my family did by supporting my mother through this difficult time.
Interaction of Various Systems. According to Rogers (2016), systems theory is an approach that allows us to recognize that there is not only an interaction between people and the systems within society but also that the systems are interrelated and influence behavior. When applying this theory to my parent’s divorce, it is important to realize that a person cannot understand how I was affected by this event without recognizing how I am affected by my family system, school system, and church system. Specifically, I possess different roles within each of these systems such as I am a daughter in the family system, I am a student in the school system, and I am a follower of God in the church system.
When my family members bring up the divorce today, it still is a sensitive topic for me because I have strong, vivid memories of everything that I went through. However, my family would not know how sensitive of a topic the divorce is for me if I did not tell them that I prefer they do not talk about it. This instance relates to the notion of systems theory that change is facilitated through feedback mechanisms. The feedback I gave my family was negative, but informing them about my feelings resulted in a positive change in their behaviors. Based on this example, there was an interaction between the micro-and mesosystems in my life.
Another example relating to systems theory is the boundaries that the court had set for me to follow until I was eighteen years old, which tremendously affected family dynamics. Basically, the boundaries the court had set defined the relationships within my family system. I lived with my mother and grandmother but only saw my father twice a week for a few hours and on every other weekend. Reflecting back now, I think it was the boundaries that the court had set that created a disconnect between my father and I, as opposed to the secure attachment relationship I had established with my mother. Based on this, the court (macrosystem) impacted the relationships I had with my family (mesosystem).
Ultimately, divorce can substantially affect a child’s development if risk factors outweigh protective factors in his or her environment. However, both my mother and I were resilient due to the supportive factors we had in our environment. It was the interaction of systems and the quality of the systems in my life that mitigated my risk of having lifelong effects from the divorce (Ungar, 2013). Therefore, at twenty-two years old I have finally come to accept the divorce as a part of my life and come to understand it on my own terms.
- Davies, D. (2011). Child development: A practitioner’s guide. New York: The Guilford Press.
- Rogers, A.T. (2016). Human behavior in the social environment: New directions in social work. New York: Routledge.
- Walsh, F. (2010). Religion, spirituality and the family: Multifaith perspectives. in F. Walsh (ed.) Spiritual resources in family therapy. New York: Guilford.
- Ungar, M. (2013). Annual review: What is resilience within the social ecology of human development? Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(4), 348-366.