by Toni Velagic about a year ago in divorced

The Effects of a Heated Divorce on Adolescents and What it Brings to Adulthood


According to the CDC the current divorce rate in the United States is 3.2 per 1,000 population, and half of all children will be witness to a parent's divorce in their lifetime. This isn't about all children, though. This is about my brother and me.

When You Don't See it Coming

My parents divorced in 1999. I was a 10-year-old 4th grader, and my brother was 8 and in 2nd grade. Our parents had fought, sure, but we never expected what happened to actually happen. Divorce was a word that we had never heard of.

I remember the day my mom left. A few days before she had even told me that she was going to leave, I just didn't realize what she was telling me at the time. She took my brother and I to school that day, we hugged and said good bye, and she left with us being non the wiser. We didn't realize anything was wrong until my dad came to pick us up early later that day.

I was confused at first. What do you mean mom left? How could she just leave? Was she coming back? It turns out she wasn't coming back. In fact, she moved to Tennessee for 3 years, and we rarely saw her in that time.

You just don't think that something like this would ever happen to you or your family, but it did.

The Early Years

When you're a child going through a divorce where your parents aren't civil, it can be hard. You go through so many emotions, and sometimes you just don't know what to think or feel. Some of those emotions stick and affect you for years to come.

I've always been a positive person, but those 1st few years after my parents' divorce affected me hard. They changed me. I was a direct witness to the anger that came from both my mom and dad. As the oldest, I became a confidant of sorts. The stories my parents would tell me were always contradictory to what the other would say (dad once told me that he had my mom "cowering in the corner" on the day she left; mom told me she pushed my dad down the stairs). Some days it felt like they were trying to pit me against the other. I didn't want to hate my parents, and it hurt that they tried to make me.

Then there was the shaming. This was mostly on my dad. I know how he felt about my mom (and still does). So it always hurt when I would say or do something and he would come at me with "you sound just like your mom." As a pre-teen this really messed with my confidence.

At the same time, I was having a hard time coming to terms with my mom leaving, and I'm slightly bitter deep down about the way she left. There's a little girl inside me that still wonders if she mattered at all.

Let's not forget, though. It wasn't just me going through this divorce. It was my brother, too. I don't think my brother has ever gotten over my parents' divorce. He's still bitter and angry. It didn't help that the day my mother left he made a sidewalk-chalk sign out in front of the house that said "Welcome Home Mom," and she never came home.

His anger showed early, and it's never really gone away. When he couldn't turn his anger towards my mom he found other outlets to take it out on. Most of the time it was me. He would call me things I can't repeat on here, threaten me, and even stand and watch once while I was beaten up. The anger has just become suppressed, although his new girlfriend has made my brother smile more than I've seen him smile in years, so I have hope.

Divorce as a Late Teen

Eventually my mom came back, and I decided to give her a chance. I hadn't forgiven her yet, that would take time. It helped that my mom lived just a few blocks away from us at the time. I spent a lot of time over at her house with her and my future step-dad. My dad wasn't too happy with the arrangement, but he didn't really have a choice. Things were good for a few years, and my little sister was born in 2004 when I was 15.

My brother and I didn't really have much of a relationship anymore, and we grew apart quickly. His anger for my mom grew, and by the time he was 16 he cut my mom out of his life completely. To this day he wants nothing to do with her.

As I got older I took up more of a motherly role in the house. I handled paperwork for my dad and helped him balance the check book and keep track of bills. I grew up quick.

The problem with this was that I was highly naive. I trusted people way too quickly, always seeking that attachment that I couldn't find. It left me vulnerable to heartache and disappointment. People who I called friends used me. Boyfriends took advantage of me. High schoolers can be cruel.

I was a great student in high school. It took me years to realize that I was only good in school because of fear. That little girl in me was afraid that her dad would leave if she didn't excel. I know, stupid right? Everything I did in school was to make my dad proud of me. I now know he always was, and still is to this day.

Graduation came, and then college.

From Adolescenthood to Adulthood

College came easy to me. I was always a good student. I lived at home with dad to save money, and I graduated in 2011 with a degree in accounting. I moved away from home. Away from the hate and memories, and I've never looked back. I still visit home from time to time, but only for a few days.

For my brother, on the other hand, college was a disaster. I can't say for certain if the divorce affected my brother's college years, but I think it had a lot to do with it.

Where do I start? Drinking, arrests, suspensions. He never graduated. It got so bad that my aunt convinced him to pull out of college and move in with her and my uncle on their farm. That was probably the best decision he's ever made. He worked the farm and moved from job to job for a while. Eventually he settled into the job he's at now, and he's doing great.

He's been through a few girlfriends in his time, some good, most bad. I don't think he has a very high sense of self-worth, and he still has a huge hate for my mother. He's gotten a bit better with me though, and I'm thrilled. I know we'll never have that brother-sister relationship that I wish we did, but time might heal a few of his wounds.


Now that I have a family of my own, I've come to see things differently. Does the experience of divorce as a child help? Absolutely. I know what not to do if I ever get divorced myself. I know it doesn't do any good to be selfish. Divorce is not about the parents, it's about the children.

A divorce that is done right can do so much good for a child, but a messy divorce can affect a child for the rest of their life. It's up to the parents to decide which type of divorce they want to be in. My parents chose wrong, and I've never really forgiven them for that.


It's been almost 20 years since my parents CHOSE to start a messy divorce that lasted for years. I've been hurt, angry, sad. It took me years to get over my parents' divorce. Even through all the smiles, there was still that anger, but one day it just disappeared. My aunt once asked me how I got through it. It's very simple. I CHOSE to. I CHOSE to not be angry. I CHOSE to forgive. I CHOSE to be happy. It could've very easily went the other way. I don't know if my parents know that or not. I don't know if they ever will, but I CHOOSE to not let their decisions affect me. I CHOOSE to let them in my life, my daughter's life. I CHOOSE to love them. I CHOOSE.

Toni Velagic
Toni Velagic
Read next: Understanding the Effects of Addiction on the Family
Toni Velagic
See all posts by Toni Velagic