Daughter Knows Best
The San Antonio Express-News
October 10, 2006
(hard copy only)
“How do I look?” she anxiously pursues my opinion of her new white pants.
“Um, why don’t you wear them with your new wedges?” I suggest.
We both nod in agreement. She retracts her magnifying face mirror, puts on the shoes and looks at all of herself.
I imagine this is how she felt when she went on dates 30 years ago, before she married my dad. She’s nervous, excited and hopeful. Freckles are still spread all over her skin, but her auburn hair is now cut to her chin. My sisters and I want her to grow it long, like it was in her old pictures with my dad. But things are different now. As she explains it: “When the rest of you is going down, something has to go up.”
It would seem that everything in my mother’s life has gone down in the past year and a half. But after one honeymoon, five states, seven houses, three daughters and one divorce, she is up, and running late to her next date.
And I have awkwardly assumed a concerned mother’s role.
“You look beautiful Mom,” I tell her, hoping that I said the right thing and that the fashion advice of a 21-year-old looks cool enough for the fifty-something dating world.
Even though I was 20 when my parents divorced, it still had a tremendous impact on me. I questioned everything I thought was family—my home, my childhood and my sisters. Now that I know the divorce was for the best, I am happy that my parents have started dating other people. I’m happy they’re happy. I think they deserve a second chance at love.
And the roles have reversed. I see myself as the parent, and them as kids I want to support and protect from the harsh dating world. I worry they’ll be lonely, or get their feelings hurt.
Others in my position share my point of view. My older sister Lilli is one. “Having parents divorce as an adult affects you differently, because you understand the dynamics of trying to date, and the vulnerable position it puts you in emotionally,” says Lilli, who is 25. “I shudder to think of my parents having to do it, because I know how hard it is having to do it as a young person.”
“I didn’t think that my parents’ marriage was working—I didn’t see it as a good thing,” said George Brandes, 21, who was 16 when his parents split. ” So I didn’t have dreams of them getting back together. I was happy from the beginning to have them start dating other people.”
According to the experts, our feelings are pretty typical. Adult children can more easily envision, and accept, their parents dating.
They realize parents will find dating tough, and want to be supportive, said Brooke Lea Foster, who interviewed 100 adult children of divorce for her book “The Way They Were: Dealing With Your Parents’ Divorce After a Lifetime of Marriage.”
“You stop thinking of yourself as a child and start thinking of yourself as that adult who is going to help your child,” said Foster, whose parents divorced when she was an adult.
Dr. Edward Anderson, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin who has interviewed over 300 families for his research on families and divorce, says: “If children are older it might be a relief to see the parent repartnered—able to turn to someone other than their children for emotional support and companionship.”
At the dinner table my mom watches my face as I read a text message from my boyfriend Eric. Passion glazes over my cheeks; my mouth expands into an upside-down triangle smile. My mom’s eyes meet mine as I close the phone and my smile fades to normal. She can’t help herself: she grabs both of my hands and tells me, “I want to be in love like you!”