I don’t think my mom knew how difficult it would be for me when she got a divorce. I was eight years old, the child of a clinical social worker and psychologist. They did their best to have a “good divorce.” One that wasn’t marred by courtroom battles or heated arguments, but instead marked by joint custody and counseling sessions. The truth is, a child can be told over and over again that her parents’ divorce is not her fault. But for many girls, no matter how competently or incompetently the breakup is handled, pain is unavoidable.
Unlike most girls who turn into women, I have never pictured my wedding day. Sure, in broad outlines, I’ve thought of getting married. But I’ve never envisioned the perfect day, or the perfect man. My life changed when my parents divorced. I am in awe of people who stay together, because I am constantly plagued by the fear that people can change their minds at any time. More than anything, I want love. I crave commitment, devotion, and security. But I have never expected it.
As a daughter of divorce, I know broken promises and a fractured family have forever changed me. Maybe you are going through a divorce of your own, and wonder how it may affect your daughter. The truth is, no matter how hard you try, her life will be affected, and when she becomes a young woman, she may struggle with relationships. When she reaches young adulthood, she may feel that because her family is broken, she is broken. The single most important thing my mother did for me, and the single most important thing you can do for your daughter, is to help her to grow up knowing she does not need to make your mistakes. Teach her that she is worth finding love she can be sure of.
As women, we tend to bury our feelings and are socialized to focus on other people. Don’t minimize the impact the divorce has had on your daughter. Recognize that as an adult, relationships may be hard for her because she never had a good model to follow. Her greatest strength can now be that she takes her time getting to know a partner and make wise decisions. As her mom, it is your role to provide her with positive messages about love. Don’t let your cynicism, sadness or anger get in the way of your daughter’s future. If you have negative attitudes about relationships, don’t pass this down to her.
Many of my friends who come from intact homes don’t have the same fears about divorce that I do. I worry that even if I take my time getting to know my boyfriend, and make the best decisions I can, that a breakup is still inevitable. It’s hard to get out of that mindset, but I try to challenge those thoughts every day. As a mother who wants the best for your daughter, guide her on her journey to finding love and remind her that her relationship doesn’t need to be a replay of your failed marriage.
If you’re looking for guidance, support, or information about daughters of divorce, please visit www.movingpastdivorce.com. Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW and Tracy Clifford are a mother and daughter team with extensive experience in counseling and writing. The topic of Moving Past Divorce is a personal one for us – divorce goes back five generations in our family. Having experienced divorce in our own lives, we have a keen understanding of how it can affect the inner lives of children, and impact the kinds of adults they become. Our book, Love We Can Be Sure Of, is about and for women who grew up in divorced homes, as they face unique vulnerabilities relate to love, trust, commitment and self-esteem. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.