SEARCHING FOR “HAPPILY EVER AFTER”…
As a young man I was constantly searching, yet constantly running from love. When things got tough, I moved on to the next relationship. As I was searching for that happily ever after, it was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t escape. I was searching for that perfect relationship, where no one ever disagreed or fought with each other—a relationship where we continually discovered new and exciting things about each other for all eternity. That was my vision for my happily ever after.
One day the vicious cycle of ending a relationship every time it became difficult came to a sudden stop. I was 21, and excited for “my” plans when the girl I was seeing told me she was having my baby. This time, my happiness was not the only factor; now I had a child to consider. After days and weeks of soul searching and talking to friends, parents, my girlfriend (the mother to be), and those I trusted, I finally decided marriage was the answer. This time I wanted to work through the stressor in my life. This time I wouldn’t run. This time the relationship would succeed, and no matter what, I was going to make it work. Seventeen months after marriage we mutually agreed it wasn't working.
I refused to give up though. Something inside me told me I could find my happily-ever after.
LOOKING FOR SELF-WORTH IN THE WRONG PLACES…
My parents were married at a young age and created a loving, encouraging and happy childhood for my three sisters and I. We spent Sunday mornings in church and said grace before each meal. As I became a young adult, I chose not to continue those traditions. I chose to put my own needs before anyone or anything else. I searched for happiness through my relationships with others, and sought their approval and acceptance of me. After experiencing heartache from my "first-love" which brought unplanned pregnancy, I was at my loneliest and felt unloved. Within a couple of years, I met my first husband and we were married. I had no idea what it meant to truly love another human being more than yourself, and as a result this marriage was a constant struggle. I was happy when things were going well, and miserable when life got tough. That was just the beginning. Life got real tough. I suffered secondary infertility and miscarriage, financial debt, and a distance from my ex that was insurmountable. We were divorced less than 10 years after we married and there I was again, lonely, unloved and looking for acceptance.
Little did I realize at the time, that true love and acceptance was there all the time, waiting for me to reach for it.
Growing up in a divorced family was difficult for me because of the back and forth visitation throughout the week and alternating weekends. What made it worse was that my parents lived hundreds of miles apart. Throughout my childhood I would only see my father for four to eight weeks out of the entire year. Primarily, we had a phone-call relationship with small bursts of trying to shove all the parental experiences of a year in just that short one to two months. It was difficult being in the middle of constant arguments about flight dates and family plans and who had which Christmas. All of it was a major stressor in my life and has caused me much emotional pain, as I grew up feeling like I had to always pick which parent to please while upsetting the other. It would tear my heart apart when I had to disappoint one to please the other or sometimes even both.
Over the years it got to the point where I would just avoid those stressful times of year when these conversations would come up. It was hard making those plans at times, but when I visited my dad, step-mom, and brothers we always focused on making the most of those short visits. We purposely focused on making family time a priority and doing a whole year’s worth of fun in a small amount of time.
Divorce is hard on children and it was a struggle that I would never wish on anyone, but knowing my family was always there for me and loved me so much helped make it more bearable.
TWO HOMES WITH TWO LIVES
Two aspects of divorce that were hard for me were the instability in my life, and the differences in the ways each parent was raising me. Trying to establish my beliefs and morals under two separate homes was stressful. Split custody also meant split home environments, split disciplines, split character traits, and split morals, which made me feel like I had to act differently from one home to the other. It's hard for a child to figure out what’s right and wrong when you have different types of guidance and discipline coming from each set of parents. If mom and dad are on different pages, that causes stress and internal conflict in their child.
It wasn’t until I went and touched the “hot stove” myself, that I believed the things my parents said. By the time I finally learned how to grow up I was already a legal adult. It took me longer because of how divided my mind and heart were through my whole childhood.
In hindsight, I was actually quite blessed to have the family I have. Some kids who may have had to deal with the same things I did growing up in divorce, could have psychological issues far more severe than pain and heartache.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
Being a child in a divorced family isn't the easiest thing in the world. Every year was a struggle – Where will I go to school?” Where will I be for Christmas?” Many times I was the middle-man in scheduling between my parents for holidays and other activities. At times the changing schedules and trying to please my parents was confusing and hectic. Every year we had to swap Christmas. One year I would spend the morning with one parent and the afternoon with the other.
Getting dropped off was always stressful because if it was past the agreed upon time I would bear the brunt of my parent's anger. It feels like a battleground where both families are firing and you're in the middle of the action. Where I went to school was stressful too. My parents were in different school districts and they fought about which elementary, middle, high school, and college was best for me.
Divorce is as hard on the kids as it is the parents. My dad and step-mom always put the focus on God and church, and over time they learned to let things go, which reduced the stress on me and improved the relationship between them and my mother.
Our families have lived through Godless marriages and experienced firsthand the devastation of broken relationships. Cheri and I were married in 2005, and two broken families became one by the grace of God. I learned to have a personal relationship with God, which lead to healthy relationships with others. Cheri learned that she was accepted by Christ so she didn't need to seek acceptance from others. This didn't happen overnight. As our faith grew through the years, the happiness and peace in our marriage grew. Our boys grew their own relationships with Christ, and He became the foundation of their happiness. As our family spent more time learning about God and growing closer to Him, our family relationships all grew stronger.