While there is no divorce in this country, I am not entirely foreign to the effects of marital separation. My parents separated when I was about seven years old and as my parent’s generation would habitually do (or not do), no explanations were given to me (to us). How would they explain marital separation to a seven-year old anyway? I realized later that aside from me, there were other casualties of this separation, my six other siblings all were!
To over-simplify, the main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that divorce opens the possibility of remarriage by legally dissolving the previous marriage whereas legal separation doesn’t, since it still recognizes the validity of that marriage. In other words, divorce puts the final nail in the coffin that separation started. No matter what any study says to the contrary, the effects of either separation or divorce is damaging enough to the children.
So what are the effects of not growing up with both parents in the household? This is my personal experience as well as my observations with my siblings and may or may not be applicable to others.
As far as I could remember until I was about seven, I would come out of my room in the morning and see my parents having coffee and reading the papers side by side at the breakfast table. Suddenly, one day only my dad was there. I suppose at my age, I didn’t really know what was going on except that my mom was no longer at the breakfast table in the morning. No explanations were given and from then on, I would only see her, if someone would drive us, on weekends. I am not going to the details of how and why my mother left, suffice it to say that from then on, my dad became both father and mother to us. While my father labored to raise us seven kids, what really made a tremendous difference in our lives was our nanny (whom we fondly call Nanay) who never married and was the one who took over the role of “mother” to us siblings. While having Nanay there certainly gave a semblance of normalcy to our lives, I realized later that in spite of her unselfish and saintly sacrifice for us, the effects of a parent leaving does irreparable damage to a child’s psyche.
Oftentimes, I would see the mothers of my friends and cousins see them off to school and this made me very conflicted inside. I never realized it then but there was a point where I would shun Nanay’s affections when she would see me off to the carpool for school because I felt embarrassed that it was her and not my real mother seeing me off. My peers would tease me that the nanny was my mom and it came to a point where I actually had to transfer to riding the school bus for an entire year where no one really knew me and no one would tease me about my situation. Like any seven year old, I would not be able to voice out my insecurities and just lived though it until I got used to it. This time in my life also coincided with my waking up in the middle of the night and wanting to transfer to the room where my younger sister and Nanay slept. This happened for many months and resulted in possibly the worst year’s academic performance in my entire elementary school life. Going though elementary was rather disconcerting especially when the time came for parent teacher meetings. About 80% of the time, my classmate’s mothers went to these meetings, as for me, my dad was the one there most of the time. Admittedly, my mom would go once in a while but that was a rarity. In situations where separated parents go alternately to these meetings, what often happens is a lack of any unified effort to address school problems that the teacher may bring up. How could separated parents do that anyway, since they don’t see or talk to each other with any regularity.
Lack of supervision
It was fortunate that I had a close set of cousins who lived in the same compound I did because this allowed me to interact with peers who, more or less, were guided and supervised well by their parents. I am profoundly thankful that my grandmother saw to it that her three children, my dad and my two aunts, set up homes in one property. Without this positive influence and without my aunts looking over our shoulders and informing my dad about what would happen day to day, I would have been lost to seek counsel from peers who may not have been as well guided. In spite of this, as I was going though high school, I would engage in adventurous behavior, which at that time, would be considered rather excessive. I realize now that my dad, busy as he was, did try his best to give us the supervision we needed. However, because of this set up, a mother’s “governorship” of a household became alien to me and I would actually loathe this motherly role because I saw it as intrusive and taking over, what in my distorted view, was solely a father’s duty. I look back now and realize that it was purely God’s grace that made me (and my other siblings) survive a household with a broken marriage and this was in large part because we had a “Nanay”, a prayerful and selfless person, who prayed intensely for us and devoted her life for us (she is still doing that until now).
The most difficult part of growing up with separated parents is that I viewed marriage with ignorant skepticism. What I mean by this is in the absence of any benchmark for a loving marital relationship, I viewed marriage lightly and without any deeper purpose. My parent’s generation didn’t talk much about relationships or how men should treat women or how women should treat men or about dating and such. It was taken for granted that it was something that one learned as one was growing up. This formula of complacency and lack of information plus my parent’s separation was almost a sure fire way to make my marriage fail before it had a chance to take off. The batting average in our family is, out of seven children, four are already separated, which is about 60% marital mortality rate. Compare this to my cousins whom I grew up with, all of whom, the marriages are still intact. As for me, my wife and I constantly work on our marriage with the thought that separation is not an option and that no problem is insurmountable.
Getting over it
What I have narrated is only a small part of the story of the effects of a separation on one child, me. It is not difficult to think of the multiplier effect if and when divorce becomes a part of the laws of this country. Those who argue for divorce want to make things easier for people to separate and find “happiness”. Happiness for whom, themselves of course. What of the children? Well, they’ll understand, right… NO THEY WON’T! If we look back in history, we can see that every moral law that people have relaxed because of certain exceptional situations has led to that law being abandoned totally and that is a strong evidence of our fallen human nature. No, children may get over a separation or divorce but they don’t get over it without scars and without great difficulty. As I mentioned earlier, getting over what happened to my parents more than four decades ago was a long and tedious process attributable solely to God’ s grace and mercy. I am scarred to be sure and there are times when my marital difficulties threaten to open up these scars to become wounds and when these situations arise, I pray and pray hard and remember what I and my siblings went through, then I look at my five children and realize what is at stake and that I would never ever want them to go through what I did.