The Dreaded Seven Letter Word

Aditi Kumar

Divorce (Talak). A seven letter word that holds so much taboo and stigma in the Indian society. You see the word dramatized in Indian serials. It’s a heavy word to throw around. It’s the word I tiptoe around, never being able to utter the words: My parents are divorced. 

Most Indian couples would choose to stay in an unhappy marriage rather than be divorced. I talk to my mom and Chachi about how it is normalized to stay in a marriage regardless of any bad circumstances in Indian culture. Even if the husband is abusive. Even if he cheats. Even if the woman is not happy in the marriage. With this mentality, marriage becomes a jail sentence. One that neither party can back out of even with all the resources in society. My Chachi  says Indian women have the patience that my generation of Indian-American girls lacks. Is it more of a lack of patience or is it a realization of our self-worth?

To be honest, I knew since I was old enough that my parents are not in it for the long haul. They both want different things in life, are completely different people and do not openly communicate with each other. I knew both of them were staying in their unhappy marriage for me and “my good”. My mom says that her and my dad would try to argue behind closed doors, so I would be shielded from that reality. That only lasted so long. 

The night before my parents got a divorce, I was sleeping in my mom’s bed. The night is blurry in my head. My mom told me that she was ready to get a divorce from my dad and it seemed like she was asking for my permission to go through with this. With the close friendship I have with my mom, I told her I would support her decision and was relieved that at least one of them finally had the courage to do it. I still cried that night because I did not know how their divorce would actually affect me. Would I have to start keeping two sets of clothes? Do I keep two separate laptops like the girl in my middle school? Would my house turn into specifying “my mom’s house” and “my dad’s house?” Would I be blamed for not trying hard enough to keep my parents together? How do I bring it up to my friends with their seemingly perfect nuclear families? How would my grandparents on both sides react to this news? However, my biggest question was: how would the Indian society deal with this news? Log kya kahenge.

My parents consciously made the decision to stay in the same house until I left for college. They didn’t want to disrupt my last two years of high school, which were my most pivotal ones in their eyes. I never really shared how I felt about the divorce with my parents and most of my family members because what would they understand? They have their parents together in the same house. Even if they do not have a perfect relationship. I stayed the fun-loving, carefree girl I was and just tried to ignore this facet of my life. What would changing my personality do in this situation? However, it became an emotional trigger for me.

Anytime I attended a party with my mother, I was always asked, “Where is your dad?” My dad rarely attended any family function, so quite frankly I always thought this was a dumb question to ask. I would make up an excuse that he was busy or that he was too exhausted to come. I would come home and lament to my mother that I was always asked this and she would tell me to ignore it. After the divorce became more real, I would want to scream in the person’s face to not ask me that question and that my parents are separated. But I would control my rage and continue the facade I had from the beginning. 

I shadowed a doctor who was close to both my mother and father. When we were alone, she told me to tell my parents to not get a divorce because it would affect MY chances of getting married. I told her that I prioritize their individual happiness and if they are happy apart, I am not going to force them to be together. I was fuming the rest of the day. I told my dad some time later and he said to ignore it. My mom had the same response. However, that small conversation has stuck with me today. 

If someone had a problem with MY parents’ divorce, I would not marry them because they do not have the emotional maturity to understand that divorce is not a taboo. My parents’ divorce does not dictate my life or my life choices. No one should ask a child to keep their parents together when the parents are not happy together. That is being selfish.

When I went to college, both my parents moved me in. My parents were getting along, which freaked me out. I was in a sort of fantasy land of my parents being together. I took one of my new college friends out to eat with my parents and she couldn’t tell that they were separated. I felt like I could pretend in college that they were together because they still shared a roof at that point. Until it was my freshman year winter break and my mom found a house. My mom’s house. I became irrationally irritated and did not know how to channel my emotions. I would have to differentiate between my parents’ houses. When I helped my mom move in that winter break, I was so frustrated and channeled it at her. It brought up the feelings I had the first night she told me of the divorce. I confessed that I felt this way to her, despite knowing it would hurt her. She tried to make me feel better that I would get two houses in their wills and not just one. As if that would somehow make me feel better about the situation and I was that materialistic.

For my college summer and winter breaks, despite my parents’ refusal, I would just live out of a suitcase. Transporting it back and forth between their houses. My parents had no guidebook either on how divorce works for a child, so they went along with it. I was not ready to think of one house as my own and I still struggle with this today. I had no custody agreement, so I would make my own schedule. Weekdays at Dad’s and Weekends at Mom’s. It sounds fine in theory, but it would never work out this way. I always feel guilty if I spend more time at either place. It would be so much easier with a custody agreement.

During college, the divorce was still an adjustment. While my friends could call just one parent and have that parent relay the message to their partner, I would call both my parents separately and have almost the same conversations with them about my day. I would still feel apprehensive sharing that my parents are the D word, so I would opt to use thinly veiled statements like my mom’s house or dad’s house. To me, it was a sort of coming out and I was not comfortable with it, even as open as I am. My primary friend group consists of people with the nuclear unit. When I talk about my frustrations about their divorce with my friends, they do their best to comfort me and understand. However, no one can truly relate to the struggles of being a child of divorced parents without being one themselves. 

I still do not think I will ever be able to truly come to terms with having divorced parents. I accept it as a part of my life, but it will always raise this icky feeling within me. I largely attribute this to the lack of acceptance of divorce in Indian society.

I hate the way that my mom’s parents and dad’s mom, although came to terms with the divorce, still do not approve of it and want them to make their marital relationship work. I know that if my mom attends a function without the ring on her finger, she is likely judged the hardest without having a spouse by her side. If my mom was widowed, she would not have the same judgement inflicted upon her. My dad faces less of these societal stigmas because he is the male. The blame of why the marriage did not work is largely placed on my mother when they are both equally to “blame.”

However, I’m proud of my mom (and dad) for getting a divorce. They taught me that I do not need to stay in a relationship that is not healthy and does not elicit happiness. My mom and dad kept beating a dead horse for many years. It taught me the importance of being independent. My mother would not be able to leave this marriage if she did not have a steady income of her own. It taught me to ignore what society says and do what is best for me. At the end of the day, my parents are living their lives happily and separately. They are able to communicate when necessary to co-parent for me. Their love and support for me did not falter once through the divorce process and after it and that is all I could ask for. 

After reading this article, I hope you are able to unlearn the unconscious biases you may have against divorcees and divorcee’s kids. Recognize that divorce is a two-way street in most situations and both parties are equally liable. You do not know what happens behind closed doors, so do not act as if you do. If a marriage is unhealthy and toxic, forcing them to stay together is not conducive for the child’s/children’s mental health and wellbeing. 

If you are a child of divorced parents, I want you to know that your feelings about their divorce are valid. Try to separate your parents’ divorce from your individual relationships and your views of both sides. Always be honest with your parents about your feelings and do not harbor your negative feelings within you. Lastly, you are not alone. Reach out to your support circles. Look for online communities.

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