--Excerpted from The Love They Lost: Living with the Legacy of Our Parents Divorce
A couple of years ago, my mother went to the twenty-five-year reunion of her graduate school class, held on the very same university campus where she and my father first met. She tells me how, as she roamed through the reception, weaving between all those almost-recognizable faces peering nervously at name tags and clutching sweaty cocktails, she bumped into three old friends. The four of them had lost touch over the years, and with so much catching up to do, they got off to an awkward start. The conversation moved slowly, touching upon all the usual bases of idle chitchat, until suddenly they found the hook that broke through the proverbial ice.
"We almost had to laugh," my mom mused wonderingly, "because we were all divorced."
"Mom." I sighed, a little impatiently, a little impetulantly. "Who isn't divorced?"
The brief extent of this exchange illuminates the gap in perception between my mother and I when it comes to divorce: My mother grew up during the fifties, when divorce was relatively unusual; she married during the early seventies as the divorce rate started to hit its peak, and she divorced during the eighties. For her, divorce was difficult choice; for me, divorce is a fact of life.
Our parents are the architects of the culture of divorce we live in today. To some extent, every generation wrestles with the legacy inherited from the one before, and with our parents' generation, millions of couples-more than ever before-entered into marriages that disintegrated to the point that divorce seemed like the best way out. In a culture where divorce is so prevalent that it almost seems like a routine bump during childhood, it can be far too easy to ignore the aftershocks that continue to rumble after our families have broken apart. Disguised by its neat promise of closure, divorce appears to signify a finite end to a marriage, a finished chapter that opens the way to the start of a new life. But it is a painful process for all involved, and while our parents endured their divorces armed with the resources of age and experience, we children were confronted with new and complicated emotions before we were fully capable of understanding them. For those of us who bore witness to the wave of divorce that engulfed our parents, their breakups defined our childhood, leaving imprints that can last a lifetime.