Divorce Sucks, But Here Are 5 Ways It Made My Kids Resilient


My husband and I split up when our daughters were three and six, relegating them to years of splitting time between our two homes. This was not ideal. I’ve suffered agonizing hours of guilt and shame for putting them through it, but honestly it was the best option available to us.

I could go on and on about the difficulties of co-parenting in the wake of resentment and disappointment, the years of getting along and then falling back into acrimony. But instead, I like to focus on the silver lining.

Because there is almost always a silver lining.

two girls in a hammockLiving through divorce and joint custody has made my kids resilient in ways I never expected. Even while I was in the thick of it, dreading changeover days, arguing about whose responsibility it was to keep the health insurance up to date, I realized that my kids were learning valuable lessons.

So here are a few of the skills they gained from their somewhat fractured childhoods:

They take responsibility for themselves.

We were never going to be helicopter parents; that’s not really our style. But as single people working and running households and trying to have personal lives, both my ex and I were tired, stressed, and doing a lot of multi-tasking.

From an early age, the girls had to be more on top of things than their peers. They had to plan ahead: remembering to take the soccer bag from one house to another, days before actual soccer practice.

They didn’t get a lot of reminding about homework. With all the to-ing and fro-ing, it was hard for either parent to stay up-to-date on what was due when.

Sometimes things fell through the cracks. But that’s a learning experience, too, figuring out how to recover or make do. We all did our best and sometimes it didn’t work out the way we’d hoped. And yet, we all survived!

They’re diplomatic.

One of the more difficult aspects of divorce is that it pits a child’s favorite people against one another. My kids had to be thoughtful about how they talked about us to each other. Again, this is a terrible thing to have to navigate as a young child, but it’s stood them in good stead.

When talking to teachers, bosses, coworkers, strangers – they have a solid understanding of how to read the room. They’ve maneuvered their way through a lot of conflict. That was not my dream for them, but it’s taught them what works and what doesn’t.

They’re accepting of different ways of living.

Early on, my kids realized that not all families have the same rules and norms of behavior. They engaged in a kind of code-switching as they moved from one house to another.

Parents don’t always share all the same values and priorities, even when living under the same roof. But, they tend to make camp in the middle ground. Once we were living apart, my ex and I created new practices that suited each of us. The kids innately understood that some things would fly at one house but not at the other. It’s made them more flexible.

They’re one another’s favorites.

They do not always get along! Nor have they. At times, their arguing has nearly sent me around the bend. However, in the end, they have an incredible bond.

Several months ago, my youngest told me that, no offence, her sister is her favorite person in the world. And while the thought of losing me is hard to bear, she doesn’t think she could live through the loss of her sister.

What a strange moment. It made me happier than I can say to be told that I come in second. In a tie with my ex.

As for the oldest, she’s spent her life trying to protect her little sister, much to the latter’s annoyance. They have their moments, but it’s clear to me that long after we’re gone, they’ll be there for one another.

We’re an extremely close family, despite the divorce.

I think that single parents have a different kind of relationship with their kids, at least some of us do. For one thing, you don’t get that kids vs adults dynamic. And you can’t play one parent off the other very effectively when they don’t live together.

We had a “we’re all in this together,” attitude. I think that’s one of the things that’s led to their ability to take on adulting so handily. Which for the most part they have, much to my relief.

Divorce sucks. It’s hard on parents and hell on kids. But, as with any hardship, there are flowers among the stones. My kids wouldn’t have chosen to spend their lives moving between their two homes, but it’s given them some pretty solid life skills.

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Julia hails from the great Northeast, where she grew up in a picture postcard New Hampshire town complete with a giant community Christmas tree. (Think Rockefeller Center without the lights, cameras or action.) She exchanged snow for rain and has happily waded through the puddles of Portland for the past thirty years. Daughters are Julia’s favorite animals. Hers, aged 20 (Grey) and 23 (Archer), have theoretically left the nest but return regularly, either to live or just do their laundry. Despite a desire to downsize, Julia is secretly thrilled whenever a kid moves home for ‘a while’. They all laughed when she majored in English, but throughout a varied career (artist, volunteer coordinator, middle manager, decluttering maven) the written word has been the key to her success and the balm for every setback. Find her at unburdenedlife.com where she’ll give you tips on how to live a less stressful more peaceful life.