There comes a day when, although we forever remain children in the eyes of our parents, but through some destined role reversal, we become parents to our own parents. At first it sounds bizarre to both sides. Both to parents, who always see us as young, and to children who always hold their parents responsible for everything.
I am a child of divorced parents. I have already written about this, but I addressed parents then. Now I am writing to children. All children. To those forever kids even though they are fifty something. To those kids who will remain kids until their parents die and they have to organise a post-funeral reception. To the kids who despite being of mature age, still nurse scars made by divorces from childhood. To all kids, trapped in adult bodies who remained knocked down by court decisions, lawyers’ power of attorney, unsolicited advice from do-gooder relatives…
As we are born without our consent, in the majority of cases divorces also occur without our consent. Why would anyone ever ask us anything when it is none of our business, although we tend to think it is ours more than anyone else’s? That divorce always comes out of the blue to every child, no matter how much it is expected. For example, despite reality, I selfishly harboured hope that my parents’ marriage would survive, even when the collapse of the marriage was obvious to the extent of my resenting their being together. Even then somehow, naively and unfoundedly, I believed they should stay together. I suppose that is so because every child thinks that without that family he or she could not continue on their own, would not know how to, would not want to go anywhere.
And I was wrong. I identified myself with that family. With the two of them. I carried the burden of that failure as much as they did although I did not take part in either starting or ruining that family. It suffocated me. I was ashamed of it. I was ashamed in front of them. I was ashamed of myself thinking I was to blame, too. I shunned people, neighbours, relatives. Even when I knew the divorce was in full swing, when someone asked me anything about it, and there are always those gloating over other people’s misery, I would pretend not to know anything. Lying to them. It was easier for me that way.
And then I cracked up. I had had enough. Then all my shame turned into rebellion, all my tears into strength, and self-pity into socialising. I cured myself from the disease called divorce proceedings when I realised that all their dirty laundry was not mine, because I never wore it, nor did I fart in it or show it to others. And this is what all children should know. You should know it is not your fault, although you may feel that way. You should know that you could not have changed anything, although you feel a lot depended on you. You should know that the same thing would have happened, even though you are convinced it could have unfolded differently.
But you must also know that your parents, no matter what you think of them, are just ordinary people. People who, despite being parents, have the right to make mistakes, just as you do. People who, despite being parents, have the right to say “yes” and to say “no” and make their own choices. The fact they brought you into this world does not mean you have become their owners. The sooner you realise they are no saints, that they have the right not to know something, to fail, not to desire something, that they also fart, experience orgasms and lie, the quicker you’ll come to the realisation they are human. Human just like you.
You should get something positive out of all this ordeal. Learn how to be better than them. This is something they want for sure – for you to be better than them. Have some understanding for their parenting even if they may not have shown understanding for you during your childhood. Be more tactful when it comes to their faults even if they may not have always recognised all your virtues. Do not quarrel with them because in all likelihood they have had their fair share of quarrelling with themselves. Do not put the blame on them for all your grudges because they must have banged their heads against the bedroom walls long enough.
And forgive them. Even though it is the hardest thing to do. You can do it. Because you are the kids who have already been through the hardest times. Do not drag other people’s emotional baggage of divorce proceedings through your own lives. Forgive them for your own sake, because as long as you hold on to past grudges, you prevent yourselves from becoming better people. And you should know that unless you deal with bad past experiences of your own family, you won’t be able to set a good example to a new family that you are about to start. And now, off you go. Go and tell them that you love them if you are lucky they are still alive, and if not, light a candle for them, because no matter how much love and light we have, it’s never enough.
Translated from the Serbian by Svetlana-Milivojević-Petrović
This post is also available in: Serbian