This is an essay by Grace Van Hofwegen, a finalist for the 2018 WeParent Scholarship. She is a student at Tulsa Community College.
When I think back to my early years of elementary school, many memories of my parents fighting and bad-mouthing each other resurface. I can vividly recall several times where my father called the police on my mother, my mother sobbing to an 8-year-old me who had no idea which parent was right – was my mom “crazy”? Was my dad a “horrible man”? I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, not even the seven therapists I saw between the ages of 7 and 11. They all said they understood how I felt, but I knew they did not. I could tell by the fake sympathy plastered on their faces that they put on every day for their jobs as therapists that they had no idea how I felt.
My parents split up when I was about five, and the state of confusion in regards to why they hated each other and who’s side I was supposed to take is what I think of when I think of my childhood. I never really wished for them to fall back in love and be together again, I just wished for a normal life like my friends at school had: parents that got along, a mother that wasn’t manic and strange, a father that would listen to me instead of yell. Growing up in this situation shaped who I am now and what I want to be (as well as what I don’t want to be), and despite all the pain, confusion, and frustration, I would not want my upbringing to have been any other way.
As I got older, I slowly discovered the answer to my burning question: neither of my parents were right. I was my own person, with my own opinions and mind. I didn’t need to take either of their sides because I was on my own side. Living with divorced parents made me realize how important your own personal beliefs and thoughts are and that I am not a mere reflection of what one of my parents’ think is to be true. I have my own voice and it matters.
I also learned that happiness is not some kind of level you reach, but to achieve overall happiness is to thoroughly live through the moments you do receive. I am reminded of this through a memory of when I was around the age of nine, when my youngest sister had a birthday celebration at my father’s house with the family. I don’t know why my mother was there considering the hatred exhibited daily between my parents on the phone and during switching between one house to the next. However, that day there was no fighting with my parents. We sang happy birthday to my sister, ate cake, and had a water balloon and water gun fight in our front yard. I remember hearing my mother laugh as she helped my sister squirt my father with their Nerf guns and the fun that we all seemed to have that day. That is one of the only happy memories I have with my mother and father. That day, and apparently that day only, they chose to put aside differences and enjoy their daughter’s birthday. I remember standing in the yard watching my family, thinking how strange it was that my parents weren’t fighting. I knew this was not going to last forever, but I really enjoyed it while it did. That day at my dad’s house is special to me, a day that I don’t think either of my parents remember, but a time that I have grown to really appreciate and something I think back to when I reflect on happiness and how to achieve it. I think that is what happiness is; embracing the moments as they are and hope to experience more of them.
To this day, my parents continue to hate each other, still fighting in court over trivial things that weigh a heavy burden on myself as the oldest child. However, the experiences I’ve had in this aspect of my life inspired me to want to become a filmmaker. A very cool aspect about films is the ability some have to make you feel understood. The ability to express emotion through the lens of a camera is beautiful and incredible, and I hope to one day be able to relate my experience of growing up with separated parents that showed such disrespect and anger to each other to an audience. I want others, whether they can relate to my childhood or not, to experience these emotions I felt and walk in my shoes. We can create wonderful things out of pain, another lesson I learned from life with my dysfunctional parents. I cannot control them or make them stop fighting, nor can I go back in time and fix their problems. I can take into account things I learned from my childhood, how I am an individual with an important voice, how happiness is not a destination, and how through the expression of film I can relate and grow upon hard feelings. I am grateful for my life and for my parents and their horrible relationship. Without it, I wouldn’t be me.