5 Things That Growing Up in A Single Parent Household Taught Me

Original Photo: Ethan DeAbreu

I understand that many children in my generation grew up with divorced parents, and by no means am I trying to be melodramatic with my story. Although divorce has become unfortunately common in the United States, with as many as 50% of marriages ending in divorce, this experience was the harbinger of a period of dramatic change in my life. It is part of my identity.

When my parents divorced, it changed my entire world. I will never forget that night, it is forever burned into the archives of my mind. My mother called upon my brother and I. Her eyes were filled with tears that she refused to let flow; her voice was soft, but not in a motherly way. Her voice was gentle because if she spoke above a whisper, the sound would shatter her facade of strength.

I watched her lips move, but I couldn’t understand the words coming out. I slipped away from my reality, none of it felt real. My heart shattered, each shard cut through me indiscriminately.

This was the beginning of a time when I lost myself. The life I had grown accustomed to came to an abrupt end.

When you are broken down, you can either rebuild yourself, or stay broken.

  1. It Taught Me How To Be Strong:

Children can be cruel, relentlessly so. They would push me until the verge of tears with their insults, and jabs. They would remind me how the whole situation was my fault, and that my parents didn’t love me. What they could never understand was the abuse I experienced; I saw things no child should see. I endured harsh words no child should ever hear. What others may see on the surface is utterly superficial when compared to what happens behind closed doors. My heart ache was mine, and mine alone; I refused to shed a single tear in front of any of them. I refused to give them the satisfaction.

Every day after school, I would go to my backyard, and cry. I cried every day for about two weeks, until one day, the tears just wouldn’t come anymore. It was as if my tears froze over the shattered pieces of my broken heart, and trapped all the pain inside. My heart was no longer fragile, yet it lost its warmth. All I could feel was an icy numbness in the center of my chest. I decided that I was done crying, that I needed to become the person my father wouldn’t be for my little brother, and my mother. I decided to become their strength, I decided to pick myself up, and fight back.

2. It Allowed Me to Determine Who I Wanted To Be

My brother, and I grew up as latch key kids. My mother worked herself until exhaustion to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs. She would always say, “I don’t care if I have to work three jobs, you boys will always have a home.” Although we moved around quite a bit, every house we lived in was filled with love, and love is what makes a house a home.

As a result of changing schools so frequently, and my mother not being home; I had a lot of freedom. I had the freedom to choose what was important to me, and who I wanted to be. I decided to pour all of my frustration, and youthful angst into my studies. Every drop of my willpower went into becoming better than what I was. I have always believed in the power of choice, although the world around me was in chaos; I could control the world within.

My resolve was unyielding, I was determined to be the first in my family to go to college. Anything that distracted me from my goal would not be tolerated.

I never cared about being accepted by my peers, I always said, “As long as I can respect myself at the end of the day, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

3. It Pushed Me to Grow

In my youth what drove me was the burning desire to prove everyone who had ever spoken down to me wrong. There has always been a fire inside of me, when someone tried to put me out, I would burn even more intensely.

The biggest obstacle in my life was my father. Not only did he succeed at breaking my mother’s heart, he broke mine. Although I specifically refer to “that night” as the night my heart broke, my heart ache began long before that. The first time he insulted me, I was so confused, “why would someone I love say that to me?” The insults existed before the divorce, and persisted far after. The word “insult” is a vast understatement in regards to what he would say to me. His words were sharp, but my will was that of flame. While he swung his words blindly trying to cut me down, he was merely fanning my fire.

Since he was so convinced that I was stupid, I lived to prove him wrong. The bullies at school were just kindling compared to him. If the words of my father could not defeat me, the words of a child certainly would not do the trick.

Rather than accepting defeat, I struggled defiantly. Every challenge I faced, and how I faced it, molded me into someone determined enough to take on the world.

4. It Taught Me How to Empathize With Others

I could always spot a kindred spirit. You can tell a lot about a person by the look in their eyes. The pain in my heart taught me how to recognize when others were in pain too. I saw right through the mask of a trained smile; I could understand the pain in their silence. When I would see others that had the same look in their eyes as me, it made me want to approach them. I have always been shy, so when I didn’t have the courage to say something encouraging directly; I would leave an anonymous note. I also had zero tolerance for bullies, I would often get myself into trouble standing up for others. I would do it all again if I had to, in a matter of fact, that is how I met my best friend. Doing the right thing one time has paid me back countless times with 16 years of friendship.

My heart could always see what my eyes could not; I learned to see the beauty in all things, in all people. Every person is a product of their environment. We were all born blank slates, and the person we ultimately became was a result of our experiences. When I think of a person, even if I don’t like them, I can understand that they are the sum of their experiences. I often wonder what I would have been like if I chose to walk a different path, so I try to extend the same courtesy to others. When I meet someone I don’t like, I try to imagine a world where we are friends.

Everyone has faced their own hardships, and there is beauty in that.

5. It Taught Me How To Let Go

For a long time, I lived my life trying to prove others wrong. I was so afraid of being inadequate. I was so angry that people pushed me into this mental space. I felt rejected by blood, and my peers, so I decided to reject them too. I decided that choosing to be alone, was better than being with people that made you feel alone.

However, as I matured I met some people that changed my life, although I am not friends with all of them today, I am eternally grateful to them. My friends taught me how to let go of my anger, and let love back into my heart.

If you live your life for the sole purpose of proving someone else wrong, you are not living for yourself. You are living for the ghost of a memory; the future should never be dictated by the past. If we dwell in the past, we cannot see the present, and the limitless future ahead.

I learned to accept myself, and my feelings. I learned that peace was a choice, a choice that only I had the power to make. When I chose to accept myself, I set myself free from the expectations of others. I learned to love the process, and how to appreciate the changes I have made. Most importantly, I learned how to love the person that I am.

Photo Credit: Dr. Mike Russo. I am wearing the aviators.

We are all in control of our lives, we can either create meaning in our suffering, or suffer. For whatever burden we may carry, there is always another who is carrying more. We should learn to see with our hearts, and give the kindness we once craved freely to others. The greatest fulfillment we can experience is in giving.