DEAR KELLY: Recently I went with my dad on a weekend trip to Santa Cruz with some of his old friends. My mom stayed home. At one point after he had been drinking a lot, I heard him say to one of his friends that his marriage was good for “about the first year,” then it’s been bad ever since. I was in shock because my parents don’t seem to have a bad marriage compared to my friends’ parents who hate each other or don’t even talk to each other.
On the way home, when it was just the two of us in the car, I asked him why he said that. At first he denied it. I kept telling him he did. Finally, he told me that he was really sorry I heard him say that. When I asked him why, he said it, he said because it was true. He said that he and my mom agreed to stay together for the kids, but that they really should have never married because they are so different. I knew my parents were different, but I didn’t know he thought they should have never married.
I asked him if he thought they would split once my little sister, who is in the ninth grade, graduates. He said it’s a strong possibility, but that he would rather me not tell anyone because right now things are in a “working condition” between him and my mom. He said doesn’t want to upset anyone. He said that she’s as unhappy as he is, and didn’t want me to think he was the only one who wasn’t happy in the marriage. I think he thought that would make me feel better, but it really didn’t.
I asked if either of them had ever cheated, and he said no but that cheating is not the only reason a couple splits up. He said that he wants to grow old with someone who shares more interests with him, and he and my mom are worlds apart in what they enjoy, which I already knew. He said he hoped that when they split it will be easy because the kids will be gone and there won’t be a lot of fighting or anger between them, because they aren’t big fighters now.
I’m so bothered by all of this. It’s disturbing, and I can’t think about anything else. I can’t help but feel like they are miserable now married and that they are just counting the days until we leave. It’s so hard to realize your parents don’t really love each other and that the “family” you thought you had is really a fake and it’s going to end soon.
Not Sure Of Anything Anymore
DEAR NOT SURE: For lack of better or more eloquent words, this stinks. What you learned from your dad, while he may have felt you were old enough to hear, is not something anyone wants to hear. No matter how old you are, discovering that your parents are planning to split (even if it is in the future) is never easy to swallow.
I have to challenge a few thoughts you expressed. Never did I hear your father say they didn’t love each other. People can love each other and still not be compatible to be married. You can also love someone for giving you the children you have, but realize that you are better off as friends than spouses.
The other thing is that your family is not fake. Even if your parents split and divorce, that doesn’t mean you no longer have a family. Being a family just means that you are people who love each other and are connected no matter what. Nowhere does it say that you have to have married parents to be a family. Family ties are threads that run deep. No matter where we go or what we do, they connect us. You will always have a family, and the feelings you feel toward your parents and your siblings are real.
It is normal to feel emotionally rocked by what you learned. Trying to process this alone would be really hard. Since your dad asked you to not talk about it, go talk with your dad about seeing a professional counselor. Just having a place to talk could be helpful and allow you a safe space to share any fears or concerns you have about what might happen. If your dad says no, go talk with your school counselor or a youth pastor or an adult you trust. Trying to hold all of this and process by yourself can make it hard to focus in school, get good sleep or cause things like headaches or stomachaches. Surround yourself with supportive people you can trust and rely on if times get tough.
Be sure of one thing: You will be OK. Even if your parents split, you will be sad but you will be OK. Perhaps getting this insight from your dad will help you feel a little more prepared if they do split. You can’t control their decisions, but you can control the support system you create for yourself and the tools you equip yourself with to handle it.
Write to Kelly Richardson at Teen Talk, The Sacramento Bee, P.O. Box 15880, Sacramento, CA 95852, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.