Through Our Children’s Eyes

Out of nowhere, it hits me like a flash. The terror and confusion my children must have felt when they knew that their dad and I were splitting up.

The sense that the world was exploding. The look on their faces. The fear in their eyes.

I can’t explain why this image – and associated memories – appear so suddenly as I am watching television last night. But they do.

My little boys. My beautiful boys.

And I feel a wave of pain which I can only imagine is theirs, and my realization that I never fully felt the weight of their experience. Yet rather than sliding into an encore song and dance of my own single parent guilt trip (which I might have done), I stay in the moment. And I ask myself what they recall of ten years ago, and the years before. I ask myself how they feel right now – about that time, and about their own futures.

I wonder how many of us try stepping inside the child’s experience before we end a low-conflict marriage. I did not want the marriage to end, though looking back (and ahead), I am glad that it did.

I wonder how many of us try to place ourselves squarely in the 6-year old or 8-year old or 14-year old mindset – rather than disappearing into our own emotional distress.

Is it possible for us to see the world through their eyes more clearly and more frequently, even as we muddle through the weeks and months and sometimes years that divorce may drag on?

The Child’s View

I push away the grief that returns even now, and I focus. Though I find value in sensing what my children may have felt in the past, those days are done; there is only what I can learn from them, how I live today, and how I create tomorrow through today’s actions and awareness.

I can only imagine so much of their experience; the rest must come from gentle and honest discussion just as it must on any topic, and accepting the appropriate boundaries between parent and child – changing as they grow older, of course. I respect their need for privacy and their willingness to discuss difficult topics, if and when they’re ready.

If and when it serves a purpose.

Thinking back to my parents’ divorce – I was an adult child of divorce – I was relieved that the complaining (on my mother’s part) might be over, hopeful that each would find their way to something like happiness, and I know now that I was incapable of understanding the complexity of divorcing.

At the time I was in my late twenties, but not having been married I didn’t grasp the many aspects of the marital unit that govern identity or self-esteem, the profound connections (or loss) of merged families, the importance of shared history, or any of the financial dependencies and repercussions.

I do recall being very aware of my mother’s aging.

My father’s? Though he was at home infrequently, his vibrant attitude toward life seemed to exempt him from the negative impacts of the years; his energy, his laugh lines, his humor were always present.

And I wonder if my boys will find me changed. They have been away for so many months.

Annie, Aging

It’s been weeks since I’ve seen her. Possibly longer. I don’t realize until I hear her voice this morning, crackling and somehow feeble. I notice a trace of gray in her usually impeccably dyed hair, and one hand trembles as she passes items over the scanner: the pasta box, the margarine, the yogurt, the crackers.

I look at her face. Really look. She must be 65 if she’s a day.

I’ve known her for fifteen years or more, but since I now shop at the Farmer’s Market, I see Annie less than I once did. I always looked forward to her good morning to me by name and so brightly, her asking about the boys, and my inquiring about her sister.

Annie doesn’t seem to remember my name. I wonder how many hours she’s already been standing.

Their World, Their View; Our Aging (Parental) Eyes

I imagine my older son will seem relatively unchanged to me, though he tells me he has shaved his mustache. But otherwise, he has more or less looked like himself each time he has returned from college. For now, I don’t anticipate any surprises. (Let’s hope I’m right.)

But my younger son was still growing when I left him at his dorm some 900 miles away. It’s been four months; I imagine he will seem older, possibly thinner, likely taller. I expect that this first experience of independence and self-sufficiency will have aged him.

I hope that my sons will eventually view both their parents with the texture and compassion that comes with a maturing eye.

I wonder if they will see my sadness. I wonder if they will see my happiness.

I know that I see myself critically when I look in the mirror – more so depending on the day, and depending on the mood.

I wonder if my children will perceive the inevitable signs of my aging as I imagine I will take in their growing experience, hoping that my persistent vitality will color their view.

  • Can we see ourselves age? Can we hear ourselves age?
  • Do we only notice aging in others when they are away for a time?
  • Do you feel more open and more relaxed as you grow older?
  • If you are a child of divorce, have you found sympathy for your parents’ choices?

 

© D. A. Wolf

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Comments

  1. Laura Connelly says:

    Your post today reminds me of a Kathleen Turner movie, “When Peggy Sue got Married.” She plays a character going back in time to her high school years as she tried to deal with a mid life divorce. There was a really compelling line in the movie when she sees her parents as they were when she was a teen. She says “You looked so young then.” It makes me wonder who my kids will see me as we look back. My son has seen me go though 2 divorces. I am hoping retinol and a really good colorist will mitigate the effects. And lots of yoga!

  2. BLW,
    My kids were 15 and 17 when I divorced their dad. Now looking back over the last 20+ years (since my divorce) my kids have adjusted well to the divorce. They have now seen how hard I worked to help their Dad live a successful life (never accomplished) and how hard it was to communicate with him (they have no real relationship with him) and they now have elevated me to Sainthood which I take willingly :). We never fought, my ex husband was alive because he was breathing. They have come to realize what they inherited from both of us both good and bad. They have dealt with their issues by seeking therapy and so far so good. They married and have children and are great parents. I can’t predict the future but they no divorce can be for the right reasons and if they became unhappy they would do the best they could for their children which is exactly what I did. I think I stand as a good example of how divorce can work without sinking and with realizing my own true potential without a partner. I know from your writings that you have given your sons a good basis and they will evaluate and come to their own conclusions and in the end all be better for it. My kids weathered my divorce and are better for it.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I’m glad to hear how well your kids are doing, Madge. Without question, there are some pairings that don’t work no matter what we do. And quite right that none of us can predict the future. I do wish we were better skilled and informed before entering married life. Perhaps we would be wiser in our choices, or better able to deal with challenges – or at least recognize what is unmanageable sooner. Hindsight, as they say… Thank you, as always, for reading and participating.

  3. Hmmm. I was fully prepared for divorce when my three children were in the tenish age range. While telling the story at the time, saw the fear in one child’s eyes and totally changed the story, went to plan B, and stayed at home another five plus years. They were ready then – no apparent problems and getting lives of their own, and no moving (I and kids stayed at home). It cost seven years on my side, but plan B worked for us and turned out well.

    Sometimes I feel OLD! Particularly aware of the mind slowing, and for me, that’s like an athlete losing their edge. Friends have started dropping dead. But somehow, I did five miles yesterday, giving exams to seventy students on Friday, stand around in the cold for Occupy, walked to the White Hours during fall break. Maybe that’s why I feel very tired at times, but it would have been nothing twenty years ago. Have been blessed with enough good health and good times over the last decade that if I were hit with lightning tomorrow, I couldn’t really complain. Fran ignores aging – like the old dog who still thinks it’s a puppy. Maybe not a bad way to be.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      There’s so much that is moving in this comment, Paul. Your decision to wait on the divorce you knew was inevitable, until your kids were older and would be less frightened by it. The fact that you and Fran found each other and the way you live your lives. We’re all aging (beats the alternative, right?); I suppose it’s about our aging gracefully and mindfully, with whatever we have to deal with. Partly good fortune, partly wise choices. As for Fran, still viewing herself as a puppy, that sounds pretty good to me. And clearly, to you, too. :)

  4. I’ve taken the plunge and am starting therapy specifically to help my kids get through this divorce as painlessly as possible. I’m also doing it for myself. I do not want to be angry and resentful. I want to move on to a happier existence. I don’t know if my kids can see the sadness in my eyes but a co-worker noticed so it’s definitely there.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      You’re in the thick of it, Cathy. As are your kids, and with a lesser toolkit to deal with any of it, of course. In my experience, that therapist is a good idea.

      Sending all of you my good thoughts and wishes, and if you need an ear, you know where I am.

  5. I am not a child of divorce but wish I was. My parents should never have stayed together and now I see the broken woman that is my mother and while I love her, I also secretly resent her for not leaving, for not going against cultural norm to pursue what was best for her and not society. She is bitter now and I feel bad that I can’t change her history for her. I can only try to be as patient as possible with a woman who does not know what it means to live life for herself, and hope that I will never be that way for my kids.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Justine, thank you for sharing your story, and your mother’s. This is why hard and fast rules (or our judgments on the relationships of others, as we see them) should always be tempered. We each make the best decisions we can at the time, with what we know and what we feel. I remember wishing my parents would divorce, though I now understand (so much better) how complex any divorcing scenario could be – and was, perhaps more so – some 30 years ago.

  6. Oh that’s a good one…. “Can we see ourselves age? Can we hear ourselves age?” And you’re the first person I’ve ever heard ask it. But once in my early twenties, and I still remember the exact moment, I was standing in someone’s backyard at a nighttime party and I felt it. I had the distinct feeling that I was at that very moment feeling myself age, feeling a threshold being crossed, my inner leaf unfurling just a little further. I said a snippet to that effect to the person standing in the circle of people near me but she laughed and basically said “no you’re not”. Funny, I thought I must just be being overly sensitive or strange…but no matter how much I doubted myself I never really didn’t believe it. Thanks for making me think about it again. xoxo

  7. “there is only what I can learn from them, how I live today, and how I create tomorrow through today’s actions and awareness.” This is the good stuff.

    My parents divorced when i was 5. Their divorce and the way they interacted afterward impacted me deeply. I am grateful for it, inspite of the pain, because it made me who I am. I see things because of my experiences. I am sensitive.

    Do I have compassion for my parents? Absolutely! Do I believe they suffered? Certainly. There was a family of suffering.

    The bummer about divorce is that it is so painful for the parent who is feeling such rejection and loss of identity or loss of a dream that they really have no energy to be a parent. And it takes energy to be a parent. So a child is simply lost for awhile while that parent finds themself again. I was invisible for a time.

    Fortunately, I’ve learned to use my invisibility.

    Your children will see you because you love them. Love heals all.

  8. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I wish you had been my mother.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Ha! Just what I need. Another kid. ;) Hey. At least you want to be a writer when you grow up, right? (We’ll talk… )

  9. I know of many couples in my parent’s generation who weren’t in happy marriages. But because societal expectations were so important, many stayed together despite how tense the atmosphere. I wonder now how many people sacrifice individual happiness just because he or she is worried about what others may think.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      It’s a good question, Rudri. I often wonder what holds some people together, and how they manage it, and what pulls others apart (sometimes seemingly more easily). The ones I worry about though are the children. No “one size fits all,” is there.

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