real life

How it feels when your parents get divorced as an adult.

Being a child of divorce doesn’t get easier as you get older.

I know he’s going to ask. He always does.

He’s a good person, and he cares about her. It’s not in his nature to stop caring, even about the people who hurt him.

He still hasn’t adjusted to being shut out of a life that was, up until only a year ago, indiscriminately tangled with his own.

He doesn’t know how difficult it is for me to answer.

“How’s your mum?” My dad says, and my heart sinks.

So begins the complicated charade, the mixing of fact with fiction: she’s happy, but not too happy. She’s sad, but not too sad. No, she hasn’t said anything to me about your new job. Seeing someone else? I couldn’t say for sure.

“We were prepared. We were over-prepared. We knew it was coming. We knew it was better for everyone this way.”

When my mum decided she didn’t want to live with my dad anymore, she was determined to wait it out until my sisters and I were adults: graduated from school, ready to move out of home, self-sufficient. We were prepared. We were over-prepared. We knew it was coming. We knew it was better for everyone this way.

She wasn’t going to “pull the rug out from under us,” as she put it.

Turns out, though, that it doesn’t really matter what you do with the rug: pull it hard, tug it gently, wait until no-one’s standing on it anymore and fold it up and put it in a high cupboard and hope everyone forgets it was ever there.

The rug’s still gone.

We sold our family home. We stretched and stretched and tore apart. We drew away from one another, first emotionally, then physically, shrinking into different corners of Sydney.

As a child, I looked at my friends whose parents were divorced with a mix of sympathy and envy. My friend Lexi lived with her mum and her stepdad, but we went over to her dad’s place to play all the time. It was sad her dad didn’t live at her house, she told me, but she got TWO birthdays and TWO Christmases every year.

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“And it’s nice that Mum and Dad don’t fight anymore,” she added.

“As a child, I looked at my friends whose parents were divorced with a mix of sympathy and envy.”

I’m going through the same thing Lexi went through when she was six. It is nice that Mum and Dad don’t fight anymore, but the lure of a double-Christmas is significantly less attractive.

I’m still a little envious of Lexi, but in a different way: as a six year old, she didn’t have to endlessly navigate between honesty and diplomacy when speaking to one parent about the other. As someone who’s always been close with both my parents – equally close, I would maintain at gunpoint – I’m a repository of information that can no longer be shared.

My mum tells me her reservations about her new life. “Don’t tell your father,” she says seriously, like I’m an international spy.

My dad tells me his plans for the future. “Maybe don’t tell Mum if she asks,” he concludes, as if the thought just occurred to him.

“Don’t get a job like your dad’s,” my mum instructs. “Never get a job like your mum’s,” my dad counters.

“See the world while you can,” my dad says. “Are you sure you can afford that trip?” my mum asks.

They’re still disagreeing, just in different conversations.

“You’re an adult now”, I told myself, the same way a child hiding under the bed might whisper “you’re a big girl”.

The other day, I drove past our old house for the first time since we left. Our family home belongs to a new family now. Perhaps happier than ours. Perhaps less happy.

I felt like crying.

You’re an adult now, I told myself, the same way a child hiding under the bed might whisper you’re a big girl.

I no longer need my parents to tuck me in at night or read me a bedtime story. My life is moving away from theirs, and that trajectory is not unique to my situation. Kids grow up. I haven’t lost anything, really.

I can still see my parents, separately, whenever I like.

But I miss them together.

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