Divorce is not an easy concept for anyone to deal with, especially while in the midst of college. Everyone hopes for an ideal, happy family environment to come back to as well as having a sense of “home.” Nevertheless, for many students this hope just doesn’t mirror their reality.
As if adjusting to my first year in college wasn’t daunting enough, I came to UCSB fresh out of my parents’ divorce. I still find that admitting I have divorced parents isn’t something that naturally comes out of my mouth when people ask me about my home life. To this day, it’s still strange to wrap my mind around the fact that I am no longer a student with happily married parents at home.
One thing I am fortunate enough to say is that I was able to experience growing up with parents who were happily together. Of course, I, like any other kid with married parents, took this sense of comfort for granted. It’s almost impossible not to when society defines the family norm as a happily married couple with kids.
On one hand, I am extremely grateful for the idealistic childhood I was given and that I still have memories of my family of four going on vacations, rushing to soccer games or gathering to see dance performances together. I personally never had to face the hardships involved with splitting time between two different households or deciding where to celebrate holidays when I was a kid. Both my sister and I were lucky enough to have had a completely secure upbringing with little worries or concerns.
Yet there are so many people my age that did not have these same comforts growing up, and I recall being a kid in elementary school and thinking it was really sad that some of my friends’ parents weren’t together. I would watch them pack their school backpacks with miscellaneous overnight things in order to go from dad’s house in the morning to mom’s house after dance practice. What I failed to grasp at that age was how strong these other kids were becoming as they coped with a less comfortable or stable childhood.
Lillian Cheeks, a second-year student at UCSB, had to learn independence at a young age when her dad moved out of their house. While speaking about growing up with a single parent, she said, “I learned to be insanely self-sufficient and make decisions for myself at a young age because I had no other choice. At times I felt like I was partly raising myself because my mom had to work extra shifts, meaning I was alone most of the time.”
In most cases, kids who grow up with married parents become reliant on their family for most everyday tasks and learn self-reliance later in life. Many other students, like Lillian, had to maneuver through childhood without a secure family bond and were pushed to grow up before they were ready. As difficult as this must have been on her childhood experience, Lillian still acknowledges that this experience shaped her into the capable student and person she is today.
“I came to college already very independent and knew how to make decisions for myself,” Lillian said. Being thrown into college and adjusting to life on your own is a scary process for most, but Lillian’s past made her more comfortable in adjusting to adult life.
Stephanie Silveria, another second-year student here at UCSB, also feels that the trauma of watching her parents’ divorce play out when she was a little girl helped shape her into the compassionate person she is today. She claims, “it has made me more tolerant and understanding with people and situations.” For this reason, she further expressed that even with all the hurt and pain she has experienced, she wouldn’t change the way things occurred even if she was given the option.
It still takes a moment for me to explain to others that the concept of “home” is ambiguous for me.
To some degree, I almost envy the people whose parents got divorced when they were young because it may have appeared completely normal when they were children. At a young age, there is a better chance of the child becoming accustomed to a new familial lifestyle and those adjustments can shape the individual into a strong, capable adult later in life.
When I was 16, my parents dropped a completely unexpected bomb: they were getting a divorce. I was old enough to realize that the family dynamic I had known thus far would forever change. My age — along with the naivety I carried up until that point about happy families — may have made it even more difficult to cope with the divorce.
In fact, Sydney Fishback, a third-year student at UCSB who was only 11 months old when her parents got divorced, discussed how she sympathizes with my experience. She expressed that it would have been much harder if she was older like I was when everything happened. “It would be harder because I would’ve been conditioned to seeing my parents together and used to knowing what it’s like to live with them both,” she noted.
This was perhaps one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. Today, I still struggle when people ask me if I’ll be going home for breaks. I have been forced to choose whether to visit my dad, who lives much closer now that he moved to SoCal last year, or to return to NorCal to my childhood home that I grew up in to see my mom. It still takes a moment for me to explain to others that the concept of “home” is ambiguous for me.
“Complicated” is the best way to describe my life since my parents got divorced later in my life. Being in college and having to discover ways to see my parents, who live seven hours apart, has not been easy in the slightest. Whenever I become frustrated with my situation, it’s helpful to think about how lucky I was to have grown up with happy parents and that many other kids my age didn’t have this luxury. Although their marriage ended, I still have the memories that other people my age with divorced parents lack.
Regardless of whether someone’s parents split up when they were a child or a teenager, there are bound to be both hardships and positives in each situation. It’s okay to have trouble with it at times. Whenever I need a breath, I take it. Taking a moment to realize that having an imperfect family situation is only making me stronger as an individual is the peace of mind that gets me through the worst of it.
Paige Holloway embraces the difficulties of a nontraditional family structure.
Paige Holloway is a Communication and Sociology major as well a write and assistant editor for On the Menu. Her interests include fitness, traveling and drinking iced coffee.