35 Years Later…My Parents Divorce Still Affects Me

It was garage sale prep day. I love a good purge. So I was deep into the depths of my closet, searching for someone’s future treasure. I came across a blue folder and couldn’t remember what was in it. Well, it wasn’t anyone else’s treasure, it was mine. It was an envelope full of my baby book, certificates from my grade school days, and pictures I had drawn.

I sat in the middle of my closet floor and began to comb through these things I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. When I came across a large, thin brown paper that had written in the corner in black sharpie “family”, I studied it to see if I had drawn it before my parents’ divorce or after. There were only 3 people in the picture and a dog, so I knew it was after.  The next large, thin brown paper had written in the corner “dad”.

I’m almost 40 years old and 35 years on the other side of my parent’s divorce, and I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.

I don’t know how old I was when I drew those pictures, most likely 4 or 5. I was old enough to know that my dad was no longer a part of my “family” but young enough to draw a terrible portrait of my sister, my mom, and my dog. And at age 40, it made me cry.

I felt sorry for that little girl. I remember being the minority in my classes at school, embarrassed that my mom had a different name than I did once she remarried. Only having one parent at school functions. All of the emotions were still there, they had just been hidden away for years.

I wanted to tell that little girl who drew those pictures that she would be okay. That the tears would eventually be sparse. That life would still go on and she would become a strong, independent young woman on the other side of her broken family. She would have many blessings that outnumbered the negative. And that the growth she would find from it would be invaluable. And then I wanted to give her a big hug.

I dealt with my parents’ divorce towards the end of my teen years. I took the hard step of forgiveness that set me free in so many ways. But it still doesn’t change the fact that my parents’ divorce hurt. And 35 years later, it still does. As an adult, I know the reasons. But the truth is, it doesn’t ease my pain. I still wish my mom and dad were married. I’d love to not split holidays. I hate explaining to my kids, over and over how family relations work.

And I wonder how my life would have been different.

Divorce = pain, any way you look at it.  

Whether the reasons are valid or not, someone gets hurt. And while time may heal the adults in the relationship, it may not heal the children. Do everything you can to make the best choices for the life you give your children. Don’t take them lightly, or be flippant.

And if you don’t have are facing a divorce, remember to love your children, be there for them, and support them. They will need you more than ever.

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Amy is an Oklahoma City Native who is the mom of 3 kids ages 14, 11, and 9 and married to her college sweetheart. She ditched Corporate America and her accounting career in order to pursue her creative side and keep up with her kids. She is the author of the blog JustFinishStrong where she blogs about food, family and fitness. Coffee, a scenic run, her border collie, Izzy, and exotic chocolate are a few of her favorite things!


  1. It is articles like this that kept me in a very toxic marriage for 14 years. I stayed for my children. I did not want them to grow up in a broken home. I did not want the astigmatism of being from a divorced home. I did not want to show them failure. But in the end, I allowed them to stay in poison. Sit in it everyday. Hear it, digest it and learn how to dish it out. I would never “guilt” anyone into staying in a marriage just for the children’s sake. During a documentary that we were required to watch in our county before our divorce could be finalized, they noted how a toxic relationship over many years was mentally equated to the mental anguish a child feels when molested. I get to live with that. My sons and daughters do, too. My oldest is 19 and has been in and out of many therapists office. He struggles with what he witnessed. Please, if someone is in an abusive relationship… physical or mental. Get out. For your kids’, don’t stay.

    • Darla, My story is not everyone’s, but my pain is real, and a result of my parents divorce. My parent’s relationship was not abusive so a true comparison can not be made. My only hope in sharing my story is that those who are leaving for all the wrong reason’s will think before they do. I would never advocate staying in an abusive home with children. Thanks for sharing.

    • I feel your sentiments completely Darla. I pray my kids won’t label themselves children of divorce for their whole lives like a badge they are stuck wearing because of our failed marriage. It breaks my heart to go through this divorce but abuse isn’t always physical and kids need to see that people will treat you how you allow them too. I hope I empower my girls but also make a relationship with their dad a priority so they can still have a family.

    • Amy.
      I love that you’re so transparent in a world that says to hide your feelings and act like everything is fine. We all have hurt in our past. It is a fact of life. We can’t journey through this world without failures and disappointments. Im sure it was difficult for you to re-live those feelings and come to terms with them again. I am so proud of you for choosing forgiveness. No where in YOUR story did I hear you suggest to stay in any situation that is unhealthy. I agree if it is abusive, you should find safety. What I did hear you say is that parents need to remember that all the decisions they make affect their children. I needed this reminder in so many ways. Like how I speak when I get angry or frustrated, how I model spending and saving money or where and who I spend my time with. It is as simple as taking the time to go the extra mile to listen to what is going on in their life and not just focused on my own to do list. I am sorry that you have pain in your heart over this, but it has turned you into a mother that is sensitive to what your kids are feeling and it has made you an encouragement to others. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    • it has been 5 years in nov since my family broke up and today while finding out my dads girlfriend is planning his 60th birthday the wind has been knocked out of me. Reading this and knowing i will have days where i feel this pain when neither of my parents are even around in 30 years reminds me why this hurts so much. I did not want this, ask for this or give up on my family yet i am the one suffering. Thank you for sharing and reminding me i am not alone.

    • I understand why some parents would want to stay together for the children, I was one of those children that wanted my parents to get divorced. Unfortunately they stayed together until I was an adult. When they finally pulled us kids aside and said they were getting a divorce I asked my father, “What took you so long?” There was much dysfunction in the house that would not have been there had he moved out. Sometimes, I believe divorce is better for everyone’s mental health, it would have saved me from some abuse.

  2. I know your pain, I know the flashbacks, I know that time cannot heal all wounds. I still think about my mother and father and what life would be like as well. It’s almost daily, and they have been divorced for 19 years…your story is amazing and I wish the same for those who ponder the thought of divorce.

  3. “And while time may heal the adults in the relationship, it won’t the children.” I’m not sure who told you that time heals the adults. It doesn’t. We live forever with the scar of that failed relationship and with the ongoing pain of knowing we hurt our children. While I am grateful to hear your perspective, since it gives me insight into what my children will experience… I’m not fond of the extra helping of guilt you added. I pray that you never come home one day to find that your whole life has suddenly changed and that you now have to try to make a difficult decision on which path will hurt your children the least.

    • Thanks for the comment Lori. This is written simply from the perspective of a child of divorce. It does not insinuate there isn’t any pain for the adults. I watched my mom’s pain as well, as someone who didn’t have a choice. It is however, not the topic of my post. It is from the child in the middle’s perspective. My hope is to reach out to those who are making the choice.

    • It’s not all about you, that is the point. I have little empathy for parents (including my own) who are upset when someone brings up the deep pain caused by divorce for children. As if no one should dare make them feel guilty. Parents who choose to make it about themselves choose to burden their children with a world of profound pain that they will never fully understand. Choose to let go of your own selfishness and see the experience through your children’s eyes so that healing for EVERYONE may be possible. It may not have been your fault, but you had much more agency in the process than your children, and a related responsibility to understand what it’s like for them outside of your own experience. It’s not too late and your kids still need you to make this about them. I pray you can find peace for yourself and with your children.

  4. Thank you so much for writing this. It was beautifully written and I appreciate you opening up and sharing your heart. I do hope that people who are making this decision for reasons other than abuse or infidelity read this and think about the ripple effect of their decisions. I know it’s not an easy decision for anyone but maybe this will help someone decide to stay and work and see if the dreams they had for their life and their kids’ lives can be repaired. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Divorce can be hard on children but, equally, so can watching parents fight and endure a loveless marriage “for the sake of the kids.” As parents of a “broken home,” my ex and I know in our hearts that we did as best as we could for as long as we could, but in the end, it didn’t work.

    Parents don’t divorce for no reason. There’s a good chance that even if, as a child, your parents’ relationship appears perfect, odds are they are trying to protect you from seeing what is happening. I know, personally, that we tried to shield our kids from the fighting and misery that we were going through. My relationship wasn’t physically abusive (although, admittedly was verbally and emotionally abusive at times) but the love was gone and we were growing to resent each other.

    It was tough on all of us. But two years later, my ex and I are both in happy, healthy relationships and we all FOUR get along great and that is what I want my kids to see: divorce isn’t something to be ashamed of. We tried and we failed. And that’s ok because we tried.

  6. I am also a child of divorce…my parents divorced when I was about 3.5 (I’m now 33) and it was not an abusive situation. Although our early years were similar, I just want to offer an alternate perspective and experience. i respect and understand your opinion, but I would be reluctant to categorize divorce as always resulting in neverending pain that will scar the children forever. That simply wasn’t my experience. I grew up with two loving engaged parents who happened to live separately. When they each remarried, I felt fortunate that I had extended families and additional people in my life who loved and cared for me. Sure, you have to adjust to having multiple celebrations for various holidays or events, but in all honesty, I usually felt fortunate that I got to draw out and extend all those fun and exciting holidays growing up. I was happy to have two turkey dinners, two Christmas mornings, etc., and now I have twice the memories. I understand not every child of divorce has an experience like mine, but I think it’s important to share. As some of the others have mentioned, there are a variety of reasons why someone might go through a divorce, all of which are stressful and extremely difficult, but it doesn’t always turn out to be a bad decision for the children. Sometimes it’s the right and best choice, and sometimes the children turn out to be fairly well adjusted and happy. Just like in any other family.

    • I would agree with this statement. My parents have been divorced well over 20 years of my life and I don’t still feel pain when I think back at that child. I look back at that child through parent eyes, to see how brave it was for my mom to raise her two children alone with help bi-costal from my dad. My mom is my hero for going back to school in my teenage years to pursue a better life for herself. My dad is highly educated and I look at him to where my drive comes from as well.

      My kids get the experience of two sets of divorced grandparents. In the school district we live in, she is the odd one out with parents that are still married. She gets to understand that no neither sets of our parents could stay married, but her dad and I are able to be married. We work hard on healthy relationships due to the toxic ones our parents had and learning to walk in the way of understanding.

      Yes, back in the day, I was the only divorced kid with a single mom. My mom took back her maiden name, so most of my life we had different last names. It made me more empathic to others.

    • Hi Vanessa. I will have agree with you 100%! I had the exact experience. More extended family and the holidays were more fun because I got to see more people and it was drawn out.

  7. Thanks for the comment Vanessa. I would consider myself well adjusted and happy, for sure. My post was highlighting the feelings from the divorce, not my entire life.

  8. Thank you for the perspective from an adult of divorced parents. I know that for a few the damage that is done is less horrible. For majority though it brings terrible feelings that you did not know you had. And the feelings don’t leave when childhood is gone. But marriage between 2 regular people does tire out whether one has been married once or 5 times. Love is not always the feeling in the air. My ex spouse and I divorced for selfish reasons. We just didn’t love each other anymore. We never did truly consider how we hurt our kids. And today although happily remarried I am so sorry for hurting my kids the way I did. Thank you for writing this. I hope it speaks to those hearts out there who are thinking about divorce. Unless there is abuse I would encourage anyone to seek godly counsel to work on your marriage. Marriages get wounded and need repair. marriage is not perfect and the remarriage won’t be perfect either.

  9. My parents divorced with I was 26 years old (only 4 years ago). No matter how old you are, divorce hurts and does significant damage to everyone involved. While my mom would have worked to keep the relationship together, my dad chose to be with someone else. I respect my mom more than anything for fighting for our family in wanting to stay with my dad. But I definitely understand where you are coming from and know first-hand the hurt that comes with divorce, even as a “child” of 26 years old.

  10. Hi Amy,

    Thank you for sharing your feelings and starting a dialogue about the effects of divorce on children.

    My mother left my father when I was 22 and just out of college. We did not have the best home life growing up, but we didn’t have the worst either. I saw my parents marriage through the eyes of my mother, and grew to have a lot of discord with my father. Now that mother is in a different relationship, married and moved away from her family – I feel as ‘left behind and ditched’ as my father did when she left him. My mother is toxic, and accepts life in a toxic relationship with a physically and verbally abusive man. No – this man isn’t abusive towards her- he has been abusive toward my husband and me. Imagine a 30 year old woman and her husband in a physically and verbally abhsive relationship with a man my mother brought into our lives. I am so thankful that my parents didn’t divorce in my youthful years. I would have been a young toddler, or grade-schooler with no choice but to live with an array of terrible men that she would have inflicted on me. Now that I am an adult with my own family, I can make the choice to stay away from her and her husband. My relationship with my father has blossomed and we are there for one another now. And I feel like I really missed out on a great guy my entire life, because of my mother.

    So I urge all of you that are so down on Amy and her article, taking personal offense to it, to think about why. Why are you so defensive? She is giving a perspective from being the product of a divorce. She isn’t judging you. Her concerns are valid. Think about the feelings from the persoective of the child long and hard before you decide this just ‘isn’t what you want.’ The future situation you immerse your children into, may be far worse than the current one you’re in. Just some things to think about.

    Thank you again, Amy.

  11. My parents divorced when I was also about 4 or 5. That was 31 years ago. I never felt sad about it. My parents only lived 30 minutes from each other. I saw my dad and my dog Colt every other weekend and we had a blast! My dad would take me to my grandma’s and have cookouts and go swimming. Though my dad wasn’t present in the house, both of my parents made sure my needs were taken care of. My mom attended most of my functions but sometimes my dad would, too. The only thing that made me slightly upset was that my mom had to work while the other kids in my class at stay at home moms who got to attend more school functions and field trips. I got very lucky when I turned about 6 or 7. My dad met a woman (who is now my stepmom). She was and is a very caring and loving person. Not only that but she introduced me to her 3 nieces, who not only became my step cousins but we ended up growing up together and they were like sisters to me. To this day my mom, dad, step mom and step father all get along. In fact this past weekend my mom and step mom cohosted my baby shower and it turned out beautiful. I’m so sorry you had a tougher time. Please don’t take this comment as me judging you because I’m not. We are all different and we all react different to all kinds of situations.

  12. This is a great post. I’ve learned a lot. I am currently going through my own divorce and I fear that my children will be disapointed in me or be haunted by bad memories when they grow up. I don’t think i’ll ever be able to completely satisfy what my children need, and as a parent, most of us will face failure more often than not. I do however have a question for you. As a child of divorce, I was wondering if it would be more of a smooth transition if i got an online divorce. I don’t want to go through the court system and I heard that you can get your divorce online nowadays. Thistoo ( http://www.thistoo.co for reference) seems ok but i don’t know if it’s trustworthy because I havent heard anything before. Any suggestions are appreciated, thank you!

  13. I just came across you’re post tonight,2017. I couldn’t agree more with you! I am 31 years old and my parents divorced when i was 5, i am still affected every day by them divorcing, it was a nasty divorce ( father cheated ) and he was in and out of my life mostly out. I have a scar forever over this, and its affected who i am today in my marriage etc.

    My husband also comes from divorced parents and he is 35 he is still very affected as his parents cannot be at the same function ever, so everything is always negative and challenging and one side misses out, he feels forced to pick sides. There is double of all functions, this is not how its suppose to be!

    I can really relate to looking back at the little girl me, and i wish i could give her a big hug! I was tuff, its very sad to think back to what i went thru with divorced parents and not having a full time dad.

    xoxo sasha

  14. Amy, thanks for your story. Though my parents divorced when I was 12 there is still a scar 25 years later. I’m not going to tell a story of abuse or anything like that. But I will say that to this day I am still affected by their relationship, or what it was. Are we all better off? Sure. Has everyone made a better life for themselves sure. Am I happy? I’m not sure I’ve really “nailed it” since their divorce, but I certainly try. There is a Jason Mraz song about learning to make the most out of 2 birthdays and Christmases and it’s meant to be funny, but the bitter sweetness of the song resounds; and I think we can all relate. We, as adult children of divorced parents, do have a great scar. Sometimes you don’t feel it; sometimes you feel like an old man with arthritis and a storm is coming in- it hurts everywhere.
    Again thanks for your story, you (we all) are not alone. Take care.

  15. My parents separated when I was 3/4, got back together, and then officially divorced when I was 7. Everything you wrote in your article – it’s almost like I wrote it. I am 31 years old and my family
    Was the first in our town to get divorced. Talk about minority. Holidays. Birthdays. Separate. Different last names. I was placed in this group at church called rainbows or something – for children of divorce. People were nosy. I suffered a lot of emotional trauma and pain that resulted in anger. Til this day – I remove myself before people can remove me. I want to stay, but I can’t bear the pain of a loss. I feel robbed of the fact that I never got to experience or witness a healthy adult relationship. My personal relationships are limited as I try my best to maintain, but withdraw on occasion and find reasons to lash out or leave. I am a good person with a huge heart – all I want is to love and be loved. 31 years old and I am truly digesting and understanding the pain this divorce has impacted me and my adult life. Both my parents went on to get re married and then subsequently divorced. I want to be married and believe I will be. I know I will be a great mom. I am extremely independent and self sufficient. I depend on no one. I don’t need anyone, but at the end of the day I want someone. My professional career is fantastic – I am successful, driven, dependable, efficient, etc. maybe it’s my crutch for lack of personal relationships. Everyone loves me – I’m funny, smart, inclusive, generous, loving .. have many acquaintances, minimal friends. I refuse to let history repeat itself, but it terrifies me. I want to let all of
    This go, but it haunts me. Appreciate you writing this and sharing your story – it makes me feel like I’m not alone and understood.

  16. I am 48. My parents have been divorced for 38 years. I have been married for 27 years and we have two children age 26 and 20. My parents divorce has very recently hit me like a ton of bricks. My own marriage is solid. My daughter-in-law has a similar family dynamic to mine. As she and I have talked I have had very real and raw emotions and memories surface. Reflecting on my own relationships and lack thereof with my parents over the last 4 decades. It has been complicated, it has been hard and it has hurt. Thank you for writing this. It is good to know I am not alone out here fighting this pain all these years later.

  17. I am 49 … my parents divorced when I was 7. I am good most of the time. Today out of nowhere the pain came to the forefront. It shocked me. I cried the whole drive home after work and tears leak even though I am trying to distract myself with funny TV or doing some activity I find fun.

    I am alone. None of my friends have experienced divorce. Some friends have even made hurtful comments – they don’t realize. How could they?

    I don’t know that it would have been better for my parents to stay together. I don’t know what I would be like today if they had stayed together. Maybe worse…I don’t know…I don’t judge!

    I just know there is pain. Residual pain. Familiar pain. Pain that I try to hide and ignore and move on from. Then like a punch to the gut – I am perfectly fine and the next moment I am angry and in tears.

    I am writing this as a catharsis……..

  18. Been struggling hard with it lately even those it’s been 10 years since they did but that last half of that blog hit….. I wish they could have read this before too:(

  19. I needed to read this today. I’m 40 and my parents divorced when I was 10. Because my siblings were different ages, we all experienced it differently and sharing this occasional pain with them is difficult for them to relate to. They fought all of the time so my childhood self wanted it to happen but I never imagined how it would complicate my life then and now with grandkids and step siblings. It’s tough and I do feel anger toward my parents for their decision to divorce. Its nice to read all of this to hear that I’m not alone in these feelings of sadness. Thank you.

  20. I know this post was made in 2015, but I can’t begin to tell you how validating this was as I read it. My parents divorced 7 years ago when I was 20 years old and just getting started in college. It was a very tough time, and I believe I was in shock the entire year and kind of disassociated. I initially spent a lot of time distracting myself/numbing the pain from it through college with A LOT of partying and drinking. With each year since I have been deeply affected, (especially now being sober). I still cry to this day, looking back on happy family memories/pictures is heartbreaking. I have purchased so many self-help books, talked with friends, etc. I wonder so many times how my life would be different had they worked it out and stayed together. I love my parents so much and wanted them to stay together so badly. Having my parents divorce was one of my biggest fears as a child, and I still can’t believe it happened in my twenties. The anguish I feel to this day knowing my family is permanently broken is devastating. I’m glad my parents are happier but it definitely still hurts they are no longer together- and it always will. Pain like this does not just “go away” for some kids (or adult kids like myself). I can honestly say I was MUCH happier before my parents divorced. Thank you for sharing this as it deeply resonated with me. I wish you all the best. ❤️

    • I’ll turn 34 next, my parents divorced when I was 5 yrs old. I can still hear my dad’s voice and see him turn around to say his last goodbye when he was entering the airport gate to take his flight to another country. That was a Saturday morning on April 15, 1995. I remember my mother and I returned home from the airport and went back to sleep, then I woke up in the afternoon and the sky looked pastel blue and pink, there was a breeze that brought with it the soft and delicate smell of a jasmine or gardenia flower planted nearby, my mother was about four months pregnant and had a white robe, and I was seating next to her at the front door just watching the scenery. I’ve never been able to erase that memory, and I wish I could. Every time the sky looks the way it did that day, it brings back all those memories and I can’t stop playing that scene in my mind over and over. Yes, it does hurt and tremendously. I can’t believe how much of my anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, disassociate personality disorder, PTSD, etc derives from that traumatic event in my life. As a child I remember thinking that I’ll never get married, and if I did I’ll never have children. I don’t have children to this day. Thank you for sharing, now I don’t feel alone.


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