What happens to life after college? For so many of us it’s a time where we don’t know exactly where we are going or heading. Friends get engaged, married, and pregnant while we wonder if life is passing us by faster than we thought. We worry about finding jobs and wonder where to go in our careers once we do find that first gig. In short, the Quarterlife crisis is where we stop being kids and start being grown up.
For the next few days I’ll be hosting different perspectives on our post-college lives because even though we maybe going through times of personal growth and exploration- we aren’t doing it alone.
Today’s post is from Jaclyn Albrecht, a friend of mine who wanted to share how the divorce of her parents affected her during her Quarterlife years.
Graduating from college was fantastic. Yes, I was unsure of what the real world would be like, but I was confident. I had already had a lot of success. In the last four years I had passed every class I didn’t drop, and every four months I’d gotten 12.5% closer to finishing what I’d set out to do. I graduated; therefore I was already a success! All of my graduation cards agreed with my assessment. One of my professors even told me that he expected great things from me.
My crisis began that August. I was finishing up my last unpaid internship and looking for my first real job. That’s when my parents called for a family meeting. It was the family meeting. The one that is feared by everyone who has heard their parents fight, or has witnessed the stress of a friend with divorced parents.
The emotional journey of an adult child of divorce is different than that of someone whose parents divorce when they are young. By the end of college most of us have spent 8-10 years trying to figure out who we are. Family dynamics, or lack thereof, play a big part in the identities that we form. Divorce late in life creates a huge change in identity for an adult child who grew up as “one of the lucky ones.”
As an adult starting to make my own life choices, I recognized that divorce was a choice. Both of my parents made the decision together to break up our family thinking that they could have a chance at a better life. Most people would say, “Of course, you can’t stay in an unhappy marriage just for the kids,” or the bigger myth, “Any unhappy marriage is more harmful to kids than divorce.” However, none of that eases the pain that comes with knowing that your parents chose their happiness over yours. My parents decided to break up my family.
Everyone felt intense grief, though in a “Good Divorce” family, that is rarely dealt with openly. My dad moved into his condo the day after Christmas, leaving my childhood home with only my mom and my high-school freshman sister. A month and a half later, Valentine’s Day, my sister calls.
She: I don’t know what to do. Mom’s in her room crying. I can hear her through the walls. I feel really bad. I don’t know what to say to her.
Me: Okay. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it. It’s not your job to be her friend. How are you; are you okay?
This was my new job. No longer just the oldest of three kids, I had to become the family caretaker. I had to be a parent to my sister when my parents could not. It would not have been healthy for either of us to offer emotional support to my mom. I called my godmother, my mom’s big sister, to ask her to call my mother. She was shocked to hear my mom needed help. Despite everything, my mom had never reached out. It would be our secret that I had asked her to call. The next day my aunt forwarded an email from my mom. “Thank God for sisters!”
The quarter life crisis is about changing from child to grown-up. And being a grown-up is about taking responsibility for what you want out of life. For me, that meant creating the family that I wanted. I read everything I could about helping teens cope with divorce, and counseled my sister. I reached out to my brother, to make sure he knew how important he was to our new, kids-only family.
My parents were the hardest part. For a long time I was just angry at them. I was angry that they didn’t try harder, and that they denied that divorce would break-up our family. I was mad that they felt they deserved a gold star for trying to be civil. If I wanted to keep my family bonds, I had to find the strength to do what my parents could not: forgive. I had to choose between forgiving them and living with a flawed relationship, or being honest about my feelings and facing having no relationship at all.
So, this is what I have learned: Shit is going to happen to you. Your parents might split up. People you love may die. You may have to give up some dreams to achieve others. It might take you years to find your job, your spouse, or whatever makes you happy. Having trouble won’t make you “unsuccessful” or a “loser.” Just take it one day at a time, and keep fighting for what’s most important to you.