My earliest childhood memory is vivid, like a homemade movie that hasn’t aged. I was three or four and sleeping in my parents’ bed. I dreamed we lived in a tiny village and a large, blue Smurf threatened to crush our house. He ran through the village as people scattered about on the ground. I felt so very, very small as I looked up at the giant Smurf about to smash our little home and family underfoot. I was jostled awake by the dream. I slid my small frame out of the bed until my toes reached the floor and found my parents in the nearby bathroom getting ready for their day.
My next memory is just a couple years later. I sat on brown shaggy carpet with my younger siblings as my parents told us of their plans to divorce. I don’t remember much of the conversation, how it started or what exactly was said. I just remember hiding under our clunky 1980’s coffee table. I remember feeling so very, very small.
For most of my life I’ve looked back on my parents’ divorce as something that obviously changed the course of growing up, but overall didn’t affect me much. There was the typical splitting weekends and holidays between Mom and Dad’s house, one of them occasionally blaming the other for the split and even a custody battle or two. Both of my parents remarried kind people with loving extended families who mostly welcomed my siblings and me. Even though my relationships were becoming increasingly complex I still felt that overall, my family life, and the rest of life too, was pretty stable.
Having children of my own made me realize I missed out on more than just a simpler family life as a kid. It was difficult to see before, but married parents provide a level of security and stability that bouncing back and forth—even between two loving homes—cannot provide. As a mother myself, I now believe it’s impossible to overstate the stability, permanence, and safety a loving marriage provides children. While I was incredibly blessed to have my step-parents and their families in my life, my parents’ divorce left a hole in my emotional development that could not be filled by those people.
Even though my parents both loved me deeply and were supportive and caring throughout my childhood, I now wonder how my life would have been different had they stayed together. When I was young, I spent long periods of time away from my mom and dad while visiting the other parent hundreds of miles away. I experienced things they were unaware of, made decisions for myself, and developed an attitude of “I can take care of myself” at an age that was younger than normal. What seemed normal to me at the time actually underscored that I lacked a sense of safety that all children need to thrive. Even though I was safe, I don’t think I ever felt truly safe. The parent I needed in that moment might not be the one I was living with at the time, particularly when I was very young and bouncing back and forth between homes during my elementary school years.
Now that I am an adult, I’m doing more than just making my marriage “work.” I am inspired by my children to sacrificially invest in maintaining a foundational relationship in their lives, for the sake of their current and future emotional wellbeing. When my husband and I argue, we make sure to apologize to each other and to our kids, letting them know that sometimes adults disagree too, even when they are married and love each other. My husband and I are quick to seek counseling when we need it and share that with our kids in the hope that they will grow up viewing counseling as normal and healthy.
My husband and I are not perfect, we make a lot of mistakes, but we have made it clear to our kids and to one another, we are sticking together. So when my kids come into our bedroom in the middle of the night because of a scary dream, my husband and I can comfort them—together.