“When My Parents Split Up” is a HuffPost series that explores what it’s like to have your parents divorce at all ages, from infancy to adulthood. Want to share your experience as a child of divorce? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Anastasia Higginbotham was 14, her parents split up. It shook up her world — but ultimately empowered her to speak up for herself.
Breaking The News:
“I was 14 at the time. My older sisters were 20 and 19, my brother was 16 and my youngest sister was 10. I was drinking a glass of milk before school. Mom was paying bills at the head of our kitchen table, checkbook open, pen in hand. She said, ‘I’ve asked your father to leave. He’s in love with another woman but she’s not the problem — she’s the solution to the problem.’ Then she said, ‘If anyone asks you what happened, tell them the marriage died.’ I turned my cup over in the top rack of the dishwasher and ran upstairs. Then I brushed my teeth while sobbing and choking, since I still had to go to school. My eyes in the mirror were red, red, red. Dad later offered, ‘Don’t let this divorce affect you’ and ‘It’s a bump in the road.’ Lovely people, horrible advice.”
The First Few Years:
“The predators circled in. The night my father moved out I went on a date with a senior boy, 18 to my 14. On weekends, I waited tables at a country club where men started drinking hard alcohol at lunchtime and gave me lots of leering attention. I was susceptible to all of it. At home, I lay my head between two giant speakers, playing Luther Vandross’s ‘A House Is Not a Home’ while tears streamed past my ears into the living room carpet. I missed Dad. Also, Mom suddenly allowed us to get kittens. Mine was black. I named her Maleficent.”
“Divorce made me a feminist. It woke me up to the disaster that is patriarchy which benefits no one and makes the whole family suffer. Mom grew mighty in the years after Dad was out of the house. She blasted Patti LaBelle’s ‘New Attitude’ and hosted uproarious ‘bitch parties’ with her sisters. She once whacked a man over the head with her menu in a restaurant for giving the pregnant waitress a hard time. I wasn’t keeping pace with her in terms of my own liberation, but I got there eventually. One Sunday at mass while I was still living at home, the priest condemned divorce. He took aim at the woman in particular and it was like a giant record scratch in my brain. In the name of the Father and of the Son? What exactly are we worshipping here? The whole thing came crashing down. It was the best worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Her Relationship With Her Parents Today:
“Getting to grow older with my parents and be close with them now as a married mother in my 40s is a gift. The power we have as parents of young children is almost unbearable to consider. We’re all still growing in our 20s, 30s, 40s and, ideally, the whole rest of the way. Anything we haven’t learned yet, especially about ourselves, has enormous impact on our kids, whether we want to admit it or not. But we could raise kids to connect with their own power sooner: the power that comes from trusting your own worth and knowing what’s true, apart from your parents and anyone else you depend on.”
“Every ordinary, terrible experience is a chance to know yourself better and see your life more clearly. Stay awake for it. Don’t go underground with your real feelings of grief, anger or relief. Make room for the entire messy, conflicted experience. If you can stand to experience it fully while it’s happening, you’re less likely to re-enact or repeat the event unconsciously or misplace feelings that will come flying out later on. If you’re zoning out or shutting down a lot, notice that. Find someone who will help you.”
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