Dear Dr. Elia,
My parents are on the brink of separation and divorce after raising 12 children and 36 years of marriage. I am the oldest child, the youngest is almost 16 and the next youngest is on a mission. It’s a tragedy and needless to say this is having a big effect on me. I’m trying to distance myself from everything and not let it bring me and my own family down.
I need some help communicating with my parents, my siblings, my husband and children, as well as help dealing with my own sadness, anger, and disappointment. If you could give me any advice, what would you say to me?
Regardless of how old we are, the thought of our parents getting a divorce (especially after 36 years of marriage) can be overwhelming! Our whole sense of stability of what we have known to be true is shaken to its core. Being the oldest of 12 siblings brings you to a unique position in terms of responsibility. Even with your position in the family and the sense of responsibility that you must have carried all these years, try to be mindful that each one of your siblings will have their own reaction to your parents decision. Shock, surprise, anger, sadness, disappointment, denial, acceptance, and relief might be some of these VERY human emotions and reactions.
It will take time to process their decision and its ramifications to your own immediate family, as well as that of your siblings. The effect on the youngest who’s at home versus someone older that has their own children versus the one serving a mission presents multiple concerns. Do you tell the missionary sibling now, or do you wait until the mission is over? Does the 16 year old spend more time with mom or dad? Who ultimately makes such a decision? The courts, the divorcing parents, or the young man/woman?
The key ingredient to surviving this “tragedy” as you call it is the type of support you have from your family (including husband, kids, siblings and other extended family and friends.) It is always helpful to talk to someone who has successfully navigated the emotional ups and downs of their own parents’ divorce. Also counsel with any church leaders that you feel a certain comfort with. If it still overwhelms you to the point of having it affect your daily life, then perhaps seeking a counselor would be a good idea.
In the end, always remember that He is well aware of your family’s circumstances and He will always be there for you. Lastly, I have seen miraculous things happen with couples that have even filed for divorce and were ready to sign the final papers. Hearts have been healed, forgiveness extended and eternal families have been preserved. Never give up hope!
God bless you and your family,
Elia Gourgouris Ph.D