My parents have been divorced for 45 years.  I’m 45.  Which means I forewent all aspects of divorce besides the aftermath.  My entire life has been aftermath.  Little did I realize that after starting a family of my own, the scourge of their divorce continues.  Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew sooner:

  1.  Never tolerate negative speak from either parent about the other.  Not ever.  You are completely at liberty to set clear boundaries about this, and be clear about the consequences of violating this rule.  That’s right, you’re now free to make the rules.
  2. Make your own family traditions.  The easiest way to bypass a cluster fuck every holiday is to put effort into creating traditions in your own home for your husband and children.  Your parents will selfishly expect you to become props in their new play.  Don’t fall for it.  And don’t wimp out because it’s too much work.    Remember:  this won’t happen over night.  It takes years of dedication and great effort but the results are worth it.  Stay the course!
  3. Let go of guilt and obligation.  The truth is, your parents relinquished their authority to guilt you into anything and their new husbands and wives and stepchildren are not your obligation.  Period.  You can honor your parents by handling this issue with delicacy.  Heated arguments are not necessary.  A simple “I love you, but no thank you” is enough to navigate requests that pressure you with guilt.  Nothing good grows from guilt, so let it go.
  4. Be honest.  Don’t sidestep difficult conversations with your parents.  Unburden yourself, it’s o.k.  Your relationship with your parents cannot grow deeper without honesty.  Know this:  parents have their own worry, guilt, and grief over the long-term effects of their divorce.  Having a well-prepared, open conversation about your feelings can reduce anger-fueled banter. This never gets to the heart of the issue, it only adds more to the pile.
  5. Seek therapy.  My single word of advice about this topic is that it often takes trying many therapists before you find one that works for you.  These people are human, they have various perspectives, personalities, and training.  Take the time to find one you like and work that shit out!  This is where you learn to stop being a victim and start controlling your life.  Your parents’ job was never to make your life perfect.  Your life or your relationship with them would never have been perfect if they didn’t divorce. The sooner you are able to stop seeing their divorce as the reason for all your problems, the better.
  6. Find your core values and live by them.  Don’t go rogue because your parents failed  you.  Don’t use your parents’ divorce as an excuse to justify your mistakes.  Being accountable is the healthiest way to take ownership of your life.  Marriage is tough.  Parenthood is tough.  Adulting is tough.  If you want to create a life of lasting things, set your own standards and live by them.  Never mind your parents’ missteps.  They are not a mark upon you.  You are free to do better.
  7.  Make decisions for your aging parents they may not be comfortable with.  If it’s unavoidable, they may end up stuck together with you in the end.  That’s the way the ball bounces, folks.  Not your problem.
  8. Love them unconditionally.  The hardest thing I’ve had to do as the only daughter of a bitter divorce is to love my parents without condition.  I’ve learned over the years that separating my love for them from my pain is what allows me to set healthy boundaries without guilt.  Forgiveness and acceptance do not have to mean an emotional free-for-all.  You can love and say no thank you.  Handling sensitive issues requires tact, consideration, self-control, and fairness but this is only achievable from a place of love.  Have compassion for what your parents have endured, and love them unconditionally. It will strengthen you.
  9. Live an authentic life.  Avoid the abyss of unhappily married people… and the fakers who appear perfect.  You’ll never find your happy place with either.  It’s hard to carve your own path with little navigation.  But this is an inside job, don’t look for answers through the illusions around you.
  10. Be the change.  Whatever you parents failed to do to save their own marriage, get your shit together and do it for yourself.  If divorce is unavoidable, then handle yours better.  You’ve earned your own black belt in the divorce arts.  Use it.

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