My mother and step-father got divorced after almost 29 years of marriage. She was 79 and he was 81 years old! I had organised with the Sheriff of the Court to meet him at the retirement home where my mom was staying in order to be there when he presented the divorce summons. He told me that in his 44 years of delivering summons, he had never before had to issue one to a 79 year old lady. He added “I feel so heartbroken. To get divorced at this age is so, so sad.” I had to agree with him!
We had tried to shield our children from most of the process but whilst having breakfast with our 10 year old one morning she asked me “Are ouma and oupa going to get divorced?” and I said “yes”. She then said “Please promise me that you and daddy will never get divorced”.
Over the years our older two daughters have periodically asked us the same question, mainly when one of their classmates’ parents were getting divorced. My instant reply had always been “of course not. Your dad and I will never get divorced!” and yet that morning I struggled with my reply. The enormity of the promise struck me. I thought “how can I promise her something like that? I don’t know what is going to happen in the future”. What guarantee do I have that our marriage will last ‘till death do us part’?
And then I thought that if I can’t promise her that, everything we have taught her about God and His goodness and His faithfulness means absolutely nothing. So I promised her that her dad and I would never get divorced.
I phoned Steve later, relayed the conversation to him and told him that we could never get divorced. I jokingly added we could kill each other but we could never, ever get divorced!
I then asked him “how can I make a promise like that on your behalf?” He didn’t even hesitate, his immediate answer was “I’ve got it covered! You promise her you won’t divorce me and I will promise her the same thing and in that way we are responsible for our own promises and those we can keep.” When he got home that night she did indeed, make him promise her that he would never divorce me.
Unbeknownst to me she overheard me telling a friend about what had happened, and I in turn, overheard her happily telling her older sister the next day “Mommy says she will never divorce daddy. She says she may kill him but she won’t divorce him!”
The dictionary defines divorce as ‘a separation’ and separate is defined as ‘to divide’. This is exactly what happens to children when their parents get divorced – their lives, their minds, their hearts and their souls gets divided right down the middle, split into two parts and a void is created between the two parts. It is as if the egg and the sperm that created them is torn apart. Generally that void is then rapidly filled with feelings of being unloved, feelings of unworthiness and inferiority. The pain and grief of the divorce can turn into bitterness, anger or self-pity or the need to manipulate others. They can either be driven to become overachievers in their need to be accepted or underachievers in the misguided notion that ‘no-body cares anyway’.
The child also often develops a terrible sense of guilt. After all, if their parents once loved each other enough to get married but now no longer care for each other, it must be the child’s fault that the relationship has ended. Totally illogical? yes, but then you are not a child. The child also often starts to wonder whether this will happen to them? Will their parents also stop loving them one day? Or get tired of them? Doubts and fears just flood in and instead of concentrating on growing up and developing they have to deal with the process of grieving because divorce is a death. It is a death of a family growing up together and the death of a future that was once dreamt of.
My parents got divorced when I was twelve years old and I do a lot of counselling with children and teenagers whose parents are divorced/going through a divorce and the above is a common theme for the majority of us.
The life giving news, however, is that God says “He will wipe every tear” and that nothing, not death nor divorce “will be able to separate us from the love of God”. (Rev 21:4 & Rom 8:39)