The deed’s been done; the label can be slapped on. I am officially a “child of divorce.”

Or is it a “child from a broken home”?

My parents’ get (divorce document) has yielded a discombobulated muddle of emotions: insecurity, sadness, anger, relief. The threads are hopelessly knotted together, and I’m slowly realizing that that’s the way it’s going to be. Divorce is not neat.

I was 21 when I heard that my parents were separating, and my first reaction was, “Thank G‑d. Finally.” My parents’ marriage had bumbled on dysfunctionally for decades, ultimately careening into a black hole of broken trust. No longer would we children have to feign bliss, pretending that all was dandy on the home front. The infection that had festered for years had finally pierced the skin, oozing out in a putrid finale of terrible choices.

I am officially a “child of divorce.”

My mother had a severe personality disorder (though we didn’t realize this until much later). Her father had been physically abusive, her mother cold and apathetic, and she had never learned to love. With each year that she refused to get help, the disorder deteriorated, reducing a brilliant woman to a demented, disturbed soul. But outsiders couldn’t see this. On the surface, Mommy was a well-respected school principal who charmed audiences with her charisma, erudition and fantastic sense of humor.

In the meantime, my devoted father became an expert at propping up the fallen pieces, creating stability in a roiling sea of capriciousness and narcissism. Mommy couldn’t be relied on for anything, but Dad was a rock.

Though my brothers and I sensed the bomb ticking just beneath the surface, for the most part, life was good. We were secure. My father, by nature an Honest Abe, had become an expert in pretense, unconsciously pulling off the most masterful show of his life. Only as we got older did we begin grasping the depth of Mommy’s illness, and the impossibility of her maintaining a meaningful marital partnership.

In my freshman year of high school, I began to seethe at the hypocrisy in my parents’ marriage. Any tension in our home was almost always my mother’s doing, but to the world-at-large, she was a pedagogical marvel. Daddy, on the other hand, was deemed the unremarkable one of the two: kindhearted but low on talent. The injustice was infuriating.

Daddy assumed a horrid role: he became our buffer, stomaching the rage, the outbursts, the maddening illogic, so that we kids would emerge unscathed. The cost to his own emotional health was steep, but he was determined to protect us. Mommy had no maternal instinct. Daddy made up for it sevenfold.

On a subconscious level, Daddy knew the marriage wasn’t viable. But he was a can-do type who had never rocked the boat, and he wasn’t about to start. Whatever it took, he would keep it together, giving us the gift of a normal childhood. And to a great extent, he succeeded. Unlike many children of divorce, I don’t view my childhood as a series of shouting matches or hate-filled stares. Though the dysfunction was ever-present, lurking in the shadows, it exploded only intermittently. The sweet memories of my youth far outnumber the black ones.

In our home, we heeded Daddy’s unspoken plea not to upset the applecart. He so badly wanted to have a normal marriage—like his doctor-lawyer-Indian-chief pals—and we didn’t have the heart to shatter his illusions. So we began a decade-long dance of denial, Daddy and us, each waltzer awfully aware of the bald truth, but unwilling to confront it together. For if we collectively, openly acknowledged that the emperor wore no clothes, life as we knew it could not continue.

No longer would I have to deal with my resentment and anger alone

Years passed, and it finally happened. Mommy did something that seriously compromised my sister’s safety, and Daddy had no choice. The curtains had fallen, and the relief was profound. No longer would we have to present as the model family. No longer would I have to deal with my resentment and anger alone. No longer would I have to hide the truth from the same rabbis and mentors who had so adulated Mommy in the past.

The divorce was a public announcement of defect, and now, we could move on . . . and heal.


Being a child of divorce is a strange thing. You are the product of a wrecked union, a faulty fusion of souls. You bore witness to flawed relationship skills, to recurrent patterns of psychologically unsound behavior. The fear is constant: will you repeat those mistakes?

Today, a fully developed self-identity and a mature faith have helped me accept the reality that G‑d makes no mistakes. In the biblical song of Haazinu, Moshe avers this pillar of faith: “The Rock [G‑d]! Perfect are His works, for all His paths are justice.”

My childhood was warped in so many ways, but there is comfort in knowing it was tailor-made for me. G‑d wanted me to tackle this particular life test. My job now is to learn the lessons and build anew. I have emerged scarred, but I have also emerged with a unique understanding of people and relationships. Going forward, I must put that to use.

Friends have asked me if I wish my parents would have divorced earlier, before the underlying decay swelled into a foul, embarrassing debacle. But I’m reluctant to engage in easy Monday-morning quarterbacking.

As a young girl, could I have properly processed the storm of emotions, the sense of disorder that comes with divorce? I don’t know.

As an impressionable, self-conscious teen, could I have dealt with divorce’s societal stigma? I don’t know.

In the long run, would I have been better off had Daddy ended the diseased marriage earlier? I don’t know.

But of one thing I am certain: Daddy did his best. Amid miserable life circumstances, he was a fount of love and stability. When he could easily have crumbled and abandoned us, he was a lion: fiercely protective and radiating a strength that masterfully betrayed his inner despair.

Ours is a world of falsehood. Scintillating, clever Mommy wasOurs is a world of falsehood everyone’s darling; true-blue Daddy was mediocrity personified. In the World of Truth, however, our limited perceptions will be upended: we will behold seemingly unexceptional folk—those who went about their daily lives with consistency and faith, making selfless, G‑dly decisions with zero recognition—sitting on high, basking in the light of the Creator they sought to emulate.

Daddy, our hope is that when you look at us today—all happily married, with loving, stable spouses—your painful sacrifice will have been worthwhile.