I don’t have a memory of living with both of my parents since they were getting a divorce by the time I was a year old. I always thought I was one of the lucky ones because I didn’t really “feel” the divorce since I was just a baby. Living with mom and visiting dad was normal and all I knew. The older I got, the pain and effects of divorce were more evident in my life.
“Dr. Popenoe has this to say about the importance of a father’s role in the family: Fathers are far more than just “second adults” in the home. Involved fathers – especially biological fathers – bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring. They provide protection and economic support and male role models. They have a parenting style that is significantly different from that of a mother and that difference is important in healthy child development.”
David Popenoe, Life Without Father, (New York: The Free Press, 1996)
My mom did the best she could as a single mother, and she’s awesome; but without that male role model at home, I had deep-rooted trust issues and insecurities. I was constantly going from one dating relationship to the next looking for love and affirmation. I didn’t really know who I was as an individual. My identity was formed by the relationship I was in at the time. I would seek long-term commitments, but then I would break up with my boyfriends before they could break up with me, since I was afraid to fully trust anyone.
I don’t want to speak from the perspective of a parent wanting to separate or get a divorce, but as a child of parents who did make that decision...
I wish they hadn’t.
It’s hard to know what my life would have been if they had stayed together; and really, I don’t want to change what I have today because my life is pretty great. I am blessed beyond measure and I couldn’t be more thankful for the life God has given me.
But here is what I do see: my insecurities have carried into my marriage. I have to fight to trust my husband who has given me no reason to doubt him. I still wrestle with finding my identity in God rather than my marriage and seeking God's approval over my husband’s. It’s a daily battle that I face because of my upbringing and the reality of growing up in a home that was broken apart.
I by no means blame anything or anyone but myself for my life choices. I am responsible for what I do, but I do believe a lot of what I needed in order to make successful life choices could have been met with a father at home.
In a book I’ve been reading called Devotions for Sacred Parenting, I found this quote, “Divorce alters our identities. It clouds the lens through which we understand the world. It weakens the foundation of our emotional development. In fact, divorce is often the defining event of our life…the Achilles’ heel to our well-being.”
As a Christian, I often share my testimony with people to help them on their journey of faith and I realized that my story always begins with, “My parents got divorced when I was a baby.” It truly is a defining event in my life that has determined a lot of who I am. Through the blood of Jesus, I am a new person today, but the scars still linger from the decisions my parents made long ago. I don’t hold any grudges or resentment against them for their decisions, but if my experience can deter future divorces, then I will gladly share the challenge it has been to be a product of divorce and how my experience motivates me to give my children a different one.
I look at my 8-month-old son and almost-3-year-old daughter and I think about how my decisions can impact their future. I can literally destroy the security and trajectory of their lives in one fell swoop if I decided to get a divorce.
God and my children motivate me to work on my marriage every day. In my house, the D word is a swear word that cannot be said. We made a vow before God and each other to love each other for better or for worse. I’ve been married almost 10 years now and with that principle in mind, we continue to choose to honor our vow before God for His sake and the sake of our children.
“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
The middle sister:
My timeline is blurry, as are my memories of life before the D. I can’t tell you how old I was when it happened. I have an idea, knowing my younger sister was just a baby and my older sister was around 6 years old by the time the divorce was finalized (each of us is 19 months apart). Why? Well, if I held on to those memories then I would have to acknowledge that something bad happened in my life. Something was taken away from me.
I’m a storyteller and artist. Visualizing my life as anything but a “happily ever after” was not going to happen, so… I became a pathological liar and manipulator - to myself - at a very young age.
I convinced myself that life was better having my parents divorced, because had they not, I would not have the stepparents and love for the incredible siblings that came later. In my denial I saw only the good that came of it, while my emotions were taking me all over the place. I became the free spirit; the wild one... and immature. No boundaries. While I saw my older sister grow up too fast, I held on to my childhood as long as possible, never wanting to deal with what really happened. Even mocking her for it. I knew why she did it, but if I ignored her pain I could stay in my “happy” place longer.
I became the performer. I would sing, dance, act, create, make people laugh, be the clown. I was pushing for attention--to be seen. I would overhear conversations about me being so talented, beautiful, affectionate, happy… blah blah blah. I fed off of it and figured if I kept up the performance I would be more than the middle child from a divorced family. But my performance had to be in my control, so that I wouldn’t get hurt.
As if it weren’t confusing enough, I also hated receiving attention or praise for things I actually accomplished. With surprise birthday parties, graduation parties, awards, I felt awkward. It was attention I could not control. I would find myself thinking, “Why would anyone do this for me?” In my mind, I wasn’t worth it unless I did something to earn it. Even when I did earn it, I didn’t want to be seen. My lies started convincing me that if I wanted anything in life I would have to get it. No one was going to take care of me but me.
Why? My mother gave me all she could. My dad gave me things I asked for. What was I needing that I wasn’t getting? Stability and reliability. I craved it and never got it. How could I when I was now in the middle of two marriages, jumping back and forth between houses? Mom worked hard to provide for us on her own while my dad was now providing for his new family and giving to us what was left. Again, thinking positively, could I blame them for the consequence they both had to live with now? “Just shut up and take care of yourself,” is what I thought.
Finally, in an attempt to take “control” of my life, I moved to Los Angeles. This is where I felt God pull me back and start the healing process. I had to focus on understanding what it meant to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10), “not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:4-8), and to relinquish control over to him. I realized I was living with thick walls, blocking my pain and hiding behind smiles.
Today, I am blessed to have been married to my best friend for six years and counting (the one person in my life I have never had to perform for) and have two children together. We both come from divorced families and have put our time into honoring our covenant. We went into marriage knowing it would never be easy. Understanding we are two broken people coming together to grow closer to God and help each other get to heaven. The D word has never been said in our home. It’s not allowed, not even as a joke.
We see marriage as a gift that needs to be cared for. When you buy a house you know you’ll need to put work into caring for it (adding updates, maintenance, cleaning, beauty and decor) throughout the years to keep it in good condition. When you invest even more into it, you add value. Marriage is the same. Not one counseling session or marriage retreat fixed the relationship. Time and investment have kept it in good condition and have made it better as we have put the work in.
I don’t wish divorce on any family. In fact, I have begged couples that are in difficult situations and considering it to think beyond the moment. If they think divorce is the only option to end their issues, it is only the beginning. From my experience, even as a child, I knew something was wrong with divorce. As it became a fad in our culture, even more so. I thought something was very wrong. And kids know it too. They won't say it, but they know. If you think your child is fine and happy through it all, they may be stuck in a performance they don’t know how to get out of and just saving face.
Just last week as I was reorganizing my house, I opened up a box from my childhood memories and stumbled upon a book called Please help me, God. Mom and Dad Don’t Live Together Anymore. It's a book that has questions and blanks to fill in. I started reading what I wrote back when I was around 8 years old, three years after my parents divorced. I was shocked at the effect that still had on me almost 30 years later.
You see, divorce isn’t something that just happens once and stays a distant memory or decision. It’s an event that deeply affects every area of my life and can still be a trigger today.
Growing up with a single mother and seeing my father every other weekend was my new normal as a child, but it was anything but normal. Even though psychologists, attorneys, judges and family members would say, “Whoever you choose to live with doesn’t mean you love them more,” it was a lie. That’s exactly what it feels like as a child. I knew whatever I chose would leave someone hurt. Those are decisions I should never have had to make at such a young age.
As the oldest of three girls, I became hard, “strong” and grew up quicker than I should have. No one told me I had to, but I had to.
Underlying emotions of rejection, hurt and pain were buried but would resurface throughout my life. Not having my dad in my life in the same household every day impacted my future relationships with guys. I never wanted to put much stock into relationships for fear of getting hurt. I was good at walking away.
I used to always say it was better that my parents got divorced because our lives are so much better as a result. But that’s just a lie I feed myself to make the pain subside. I know that was not God’s perfect will. The divorce was not the better option. However, God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Today, I’m a faithful disciple of Jesus; wife to an amazing man of God for almost 14 years and mom to our miracle daughter born late last year. We pray for our daughter’s husband and future in-laws every single day. We pray that he is raised in the Word and loves Jesus more than anything in the world and will love and cherish our daughter when that day comes. We pray for them to have a strong marriage that glorifies God.
My marriage is a testament to who God is and wanting not to repeat the mistakes and decisions of my parents. Marriage is sacred and a very serious covenant, that I do not take lightly or base on emotions.
The D word is forbidden in our home and marriage. It’s not an option. That was decided before my husband and I took our vows. Divorce is not a trend, or something to do when you’re tired of your spouse or you’ve “fallen out of love.” It’s a destructive decision that affects everyone in your life, especially your children.
I still carry wounds that I’ve tried to suppress from an event that happened before I even understood what was taking place. God has renewed my heart and mind and healed my wounds, but the scars of divorce are still there.
My sisters and I have broken the chains of divorce in our family, but we work at our marriages every...single...day.
Marrying my husband was a choice I made. But once we were married, it was a covenant we entered into that we understood was not to be broken. My husband and I work on our marriage for us, for God and for our daughter.
Cassandra Fernandez became a disciple on her 21st birthday and married Tony Fernandez the following year in 2010. Since then, they have been in the full time ministry. As an evangelist and women's ministry leader, they have counseled many married couples over the years and have seen the need to address the topic of reconciliation in efforts to avoid the damaging consequences of divorce. Tony and Cassandra have two beautiful children, Cadence Grace (3) and Ezra (1) and are currently leading the Broward Church in South Florida.
Michelle Parrish became a disciple in 2012 in the singles ministry of Turning Point, one of our Los Angeles ministries. Shortly after, she started dating her now husband, Brandon Parrish. They were married in 2014 and have two beautiful kids, Elias Epic (4) and Isabel Madison (2). They have served in the teen and worship ministries at Turning Point. In 2019, they made the cross country move to Orlando, Florida and are actively involved in the Oviedo ministry of the Orlando Church.
Jenelle Ferrer has been married to her college sweetheart, Lucas Ferrer, since 2006. Jenelle became a disciple in 2012 in the Orlando Church of Christ and has served in various capacities in the Church with her husband. After 9 years of praying and waiting for a child, the Lord blessed them with Eliana Joy Ferrer born September 2019. Lucas and Jenelle currently serve in the Oviedo ministry of the Orlando Church.