Janelle Peregoy offers words of hope for adults whose lives were changed long ago when their parents divorced.
“Growing up in my household, marriage was a punchline,” a friend confided regarding her parents’ multiple divorces.
I get it.
My own parents divorced when I was 7 and my brother was 3. As the aftermath of divorces went, my family was fortunate. We moved in with my maternal grandparents, who provided a sense of home and security in the following years of our childhoods. The daily witness of their 40+ year marriage had a far more significant long-term effect on my life. Even though my parents’ relationship simultaneously prompted deep fear and skepticism towards dating and relationships, my grandparents’ love and commitment to each other validated my own vocational call to marriage.
Despite secular culture’s normalization of divorce, the medical and psychological community widely recognizes parental separation and divorce as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Divorce is correlated with decreased school achievement, behavioral concerns, lowered self-confidence, and more distant relationships with both parents. Greater stresses for the child generally occur because of absence of a consistent second parent, exacerbated economic disadvantage, or family conflict and instability. A clear exception to these norms is domestic violence. Canon Law recognizes that in situations of abuse, separation is necessary for the good of the spouse and the children.
The point is that divorce is systemic and has far-reaching effects on the children of the relationship regardless of age, although the specific effects will be unique to each person.
When it comes to my own parents’ divorce, I wish I could time travel. I would tell my little girl self that she was allowed her big feelings—the ones that prompted birthday-candle-wishes that both of her parents would attend the same party. I would validate that she deserved more than the responsibility of packing up her life every other weekend. Visiting myself later in college, I would marvel at the young woman who could be so generous, open and loving within the context of her friendships. I would also stroke her shoulder and acknowledge the dual protective armors of aloofness and sarcasm that she would deploy at the very hint of a romantic relationship.
The GOOD news is that ministries with the Church are recognizing that the experiences of children and adults from divorced families may require profound spiritual healing. One particular ministry that has brought me consolation is Life-Giving Wounds.
The mission of Life-Giving Wounds is to help people with divorced parents give voice to their pain and find healing. Founded by Daniel and Bethany Meola, their ministry has experienced rapid growth in the last few years and a list of upcoming retreats and support sessions can be found on their website. The ministry has also assembled a comprehensive list of additional resources (books, podcasts, videos, articles, and more) for adults of divorced parents on their website.
Nearly 35 years after my own parents divorced, I find myself in the ironic position of leading diocesan Pre-Cana retreats. Sometimes I catch myself gazing at the crowds of adoring engaged couples. How many of you are scared? How many of you don’t want to repeat the mistakes of your own family? How many of you think marriage is a punchline?
For those who resonate with those concerns, I commend you. I commend you for setting aside your skepticism enough to seek a partner. I commend you for falling in love. I commend you for allowing yourself to become vulnerable, and in turn accepting your partner’s vulnerability. These are the building blocks of intimacy. More than anything else, I commend you for trusting God and trusting your future spouse. Your marriage will depend on that continued trust.
I pray that you seek positive role models of those who know and live this sacrament. I pray that you break intergenerational patterns and behaviors. I pray that you seek therapy and mental health resources when and if you need them. I pray that you put love ahead of fear and doubt.
May the witness of the Holy Family inspire you.
Copyright 2023 Janelle Peregoy
About the Author
Janelle Peregoy, M.Div, is an Associate Director in the Office of Family Life & Spirituality at the Diocese of San Diego. So yes, she has found one of the few positions where it is professionally acceptable to contemplate the spirituality of potty training. A Pope Francis bobble-head sits on her desk for inspiration. See more from Janelle on her blog, Faithfully Irreverent.