Ask Mary Jo
Parents’ anger not your problem
Q.Can you help me figure out how to help my family? I leave for college in a month.
I’m excited, scared, anxious, can’t wait … you know, you’ve heard it all before. I’m ready. The problem is my parents. I’m an only. They divorced when I was 10. Since then they’ve tried to be good parents. They’ve managed to share time with me. I’ve seen them be civil with one another and pick me up and bring me to each other’s houses.
After the divorce I never saw them fight. They never messed up a holiday or a birthday. I knew they weren’t together, but at every party there they’d be, bringing in cake and cleaning up and stuff.
A few months ago they had a huge fight. It was about me.
My mom wanted me to go right to college. My dad said I should take a year off before starting school. I guess they married young, and my dad said he never got to really be young.
It started out as this simple conversation. I never expected anger like that. I guess they’d been holding it in a long time. It wasn’t so much that they screamed – they did – it was more that they actually looked like they hated each other.
Since that day they haven’t spoken one word to each other. I’m 18, so I don’t need them to make arrangements for me anymore. I have a car. I drive. I can go to see either of them. Both of them have asked me to fix things so the first day I go to school they won’t need to be there at the same time.
My question is this: How can I leave them like this? How can I go to school in another state where I can’t easily get home, knowing that they won’t even talk to each other?
When they first split up, I used to pretend I’d get them back together, but that dream is long gone. I just want them to talk. I don’t want them to hate each other. I picture things like my college graduation or my wedding someday, and it upsets me to think they’ll be dodging each other.
I feel like this whole mess is my fault. It wasn’t like I took my mom’s side, because I didn’t. I really do want to go to college now. Like I said, I’m ready. Any ideas? Can you answer soon, because I’ll be leaving?
Mary Jo’s response: You are not responsible for your parents’ anger now. You weren’t the cause of their divorce when you were 10. You aren’t accountable for their happiness. Negotiating their peaceful relationship isn’t your job.
Your feelings aren’t unusual. Many young people blame themselves when parents divorce; in your case a false sense of calm over the last eight years made you feel safe. In truth, the incident surrounding your departure from college was the catalyst for their anger, but probably not the cause.
Have you ever spent quality time with a good counselor? Working through the guilt you feel would be healthy. You have the right to move forward in your life. College will open doors. Explore the possibilities education offers. Enjoy your life.
It sounds as if your parents did the best job they could do. It’s obvious you mean a great deal to both of them. Honor their many years of devotion and leave for college with a clear conscience. We live in a high-tech world. You may be miles away but can connect via Facetime or Skype in an instant. Remember, they’ve developed social systems without one another. You’re not leaving them alone.
Projecting forward to your graduation or wedding will only bring your angst. Time changes things. Your parents were civil for a long while because they love you. Your life matters to them. During important life events I believe they will rally to create the same type of atmosphere they gave you on birthdays. I don’t think they will cause a scene. Live now and plan your future well.
Good luck with college. I think it’s time to take the next step in your life. I wish you success and much joy.
Peer Educator response: Parent choices can be lousy. It sounds like yours at least tried to be there for you. Maybe they’d been pretending too long. Your choices are your own. If you’re ready for college, then go for it.