I stared at the glistening pink fruit that I had just sliced open for breakfast and immediately went back in time. Grapefruit hung by the hundreds on my grandparents’ trees during the Florida winters of my childhood, and one of my most favorite things to do was pluck them off the highest branches I could reach. My grandma served them every morning and used them along with the tangelos and oranges that came from their yard, too, to make freshly squeezed juice whenever we visited her and my grandpa. Back then, I figured it was part of her every morning routine, but now I wonder if she did it especially for us.
I showed my five-year-old daughter how to carefully remove the pieces of fruit from the rind and then squeeze every last drop of juice out onto her serrated spoon, just like my grandma had taught me. It was important to savor each bite, to not rush, and I hoped I was teaching her the steps just right.
While we were eating, I mentioned to my girl that my grandparents had grown fruit like this in their yard. Just as we grow fruits and vegetables in our garden, they grew citrus, a few steps from their back porch. I reminisced about the hours I spent laying in a hammock strung between two trees in a world that seemed like a magical jungle. I could get lost there, hiding behind large palms or tiptoeing around pineapples, and loving every single minute. My grandparents both had green thumbs, and together, they taught me how to nurture delicate plants, harvest fruits when they were ripe, and savor the taste of something homegrown and fresh. As I was waxing nostalgic over breakfast, my daughter asked a simple question that abruptly stopped my journey down memory lane.
“Wait a minute. Why did your grandma and grandpa live together in the same house?”
“Well, because they were married,” I responded, not immediately recognizing where she was going with this.
“Your grandparents were married?! To each other? Well, that is really cool, Mommy.”
She continued slurping the juice from her grapefruit as if nothing about that quick exchange had changed a thing for her. For me, though, it changed everything. My heart sank. Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that to my daughter, married grandparents was a foreign concept.
She has never known any of her grandmas and grandpas to be married to each other. My in-laws divorced when my husband was young; my parents divorced the year that my girl was conceived. She has almost always interacted with them separately and she does not know what it is like to spend time with people who have been married longer than her parents have been alive.
I have so many emotions about all of that, and I almost never talk about any of them. My parents’ divorce is still relatively new and is something I have not yet fully processed or coped with. If I am honest with myself, I know that underneath my full and lovely life and my I-don’t-want-to-stir-things-up façade, I am angry and I am hurt.
I do not understand why two people I love so much and have looked up to my whole life decided to end their marriage of over 30 years. I am sad that they chose to part ways rather than to fight for each other and for our family. And I am bitter and resentful that my children will never know the excitement of their grandparents pulling into our driveway together for a weeklong visit, or the comfort of swinging from the branches in a yard their grandparents share.
My daughter understands more about divorce than I did at her age, and recently, has put the pieces together that her grandmas and grandpas used to be married to each other. Of course, that realization leads to questions about why people get divorced in the first place, why her loved ones, specifically, chose to “stop being married,” and whether or not her mommy and daddy might do the same thing.
As someone who earnestly tries to please others, I tend to avoid tough conversations. But as my girl starts asking these kinds of questions, I cannot run from them and I cannot abandon her to navigate them alone. Exploring answers means that I have to admit my disappointments about my own mom and dad, and my husband does too, and that we have to answer her honestly and openly, with a lot of “I don’t know.”
I want my children to know that I disagree with the decisions their grandparents have made about their marriages, and I want them to feel secure in the knowledge that their daddy and I will never stop fighting for ours. When my parents separated, I was a newlywed, and for the first time in my life, I understood firsthand that anyone can get divorced, even my parents. Even me. Thirty-plus years of marriage are apparently not a protective factor. That realization felt so foreign and so scary that I buried it as quickly as I could.
I kept my head in the sand through finalized legal paperwork, missed birthday parties, and holidays celebrated separately. I did not know how to have individual relationships with my parents apart from each other, so I just stopped nurturing our bonds altogether. I resented having to figure out how to split time for get-togethers or being asked to communicate messages back and forth. I grew distant without saying a word about it and began to think that this was just what divorced families do. I cried over how seemingly easy it was for my mom and dad to let me withdraw from them, and at how they neglected, again, to fight for us.
But when my daughter made that comment about grandparents being married as “really cool” over the grapefruit we shared, she jerked my head right up out of the sand for the first time since I had buried it. The anger and sadness set in again, and instead of pushing them away, I finally began to lean into them.
The thing I am learning through this experience is that their story is not my story. While I want to be respectful and I want my children to know the best of their grandparents, I do not have to ignore the elephant in the room. Pretending that our parents’ divorces do not affect our family only stands to hurt us more, so I tell my daughter how I feel about the things that have transpired in our family. I explain that I feel hurt and mad; I let her know that I do not understand why the people we love so much chose to end their marriages. And for all the questions I do not have answers for, I encourage her to ask her grandparents directly. I have decided that it is not fair for them to have their heads in the sand, either, and perhaps they can explain the things I cannot.
I am grateful for my memories of grapefruit harvesting and hammock naps, and for the security I felt in knowing that the people I came from loved each other “till death do us part.” And I grieve the fact that my children will have very different experiences with their grandparents than I did with mine. I am thankful for my daughter’s innocent questions that force me to look at a life-changing event that I have tried so desperately to ignore. Leaning into this hurt is new for me, but I am working hard to embrace it and to muster the courage to start conversations that I have avoided for the past few years. I remember that my children deserve that, even when I do not feel like I do.
Perhaps most importantly, I turn towards my husband through all of this, leaning on and supporting him and nurturing our relationship. If there is a gift to be found in this life with divorced parents, for me, it is the value I place on prioritizing my marriage. I will be damned if our grandchildren one day have to know us separately.
My daughters and son are loved by their grandparents, just as I was by mine, and perhaps through the pain and disappointment I grapple with, that is what matters the most. My story is not their story, and maybe that is OK, because even through divorce and all its nasty side effects, I do believe love will prevail.