What we talk about when we talk about divorce…


Bigger than a Bread Box is  about divorce/separation.  It’s also about a magical vintage bread box that grants wishes, and about a kid adjusting to life in a new school, and about poetry and snack cakes. But most of all, it’s about parents who are having trouble with each other and their daughter trying to make sense of that.  I know this sounds “sad” and “heavy” and “like a big downer.”  But it’s important to me.

Here’s why.

Grownups control the way divorce gets discussed.  But kids  experience it too.  Grownups really need to believe, when splitting up, that “divorce is for the best” or that “we’ll all come through it okay”  because “kids are so resilient.”  Their need to believe these things affects the way they talk about divorce… and the way they remember it too.

But even when divorces are for the best (they often are), and even when the kids will be fine (they usually will) the experience for the kids can be painful, or scary, or confusing. Of course it can. But the kids don’t want to stress how that’s true, because they are often so aware of the pain their parents are going through. They don’t want to make it worse.  So they keep it inside, a lot. Or they act out in other ways.  (or they grow up and write books about it, I guess)

At the same time, kids also know that they aren’t supposed to ENJOY the divorce exactly , the two bedrooms, the pizza nights with dad, the extra attention, the double summer vacations. Because something “bad” is happening.  So it’s like there’s this acceptable range of emotion–sad but not too sad.  Weird, right?  When the split itself is a huge and individual experience. Different for each family, each kid.

I didn’t set out to write an issue book at all. I set out to write a book about a magical box.  But then the box turned complicated, and suddenly, the book was about divorce.  When I realized that I tried really hard to make it particular, personal, detailed. I tried not to make it heavyhanded, but to root it in character, experience. I tried to recall both the hard and the good.

I wrote this book inspired by my own childhood experience of divorce. It’s mine.  It’s my own very specific memories, as a kid, squashed together with my adult understanding of the world, and my imagination.  I did the best I could.  But now I can’t stop wondering about what YOU might have written.

And so–what I would love love love is to hear from you, from all of you.  I wonder what your thoughts/impressions/memories of divorce are?  Start with the smallest details. Can you remember anything from the day you “found out?”  Are there, maybe, things you really enjoyed about the experience?  Was there a moment of acceptance? Was there conflict? Did things get scary?  Did your parents work it out in the end, or remarry? Has it affected your adult life?  Did you switch schools? Move? Did your parents date after that?  Did you wish your father would marry your pretty Hebrew School teacher? (I did)

Will you tell me a story?

Or maybe you’d rather share your impressions of someone else’s family? Maybe you watched your best friend go through a hard time? Maybe you read about divorce in books, and worried for your own family? Maybe your parents fought and you wished they’d split up?

Please consider posting something to your own blog about this. If you do,maybe you’ll also kindly include the cover to my book (because hey! I have a book coming out, and I need all the help I can get), and  link back to this post?  Then I’ll post a link to your blogs right here, and we can all see what we see…

When I told some people I was going to try this, the response (with the exception of a few voices) was NO!  People said it would be too negative.  But I have to believe there are people like me,  who want to share these memories, these thoughts.  That our grownup selves haven’t entirely overwhelmed our childhood memories…

Prove me right?

Kelly has posted a truly amazing story over at THE MIDDLE IS THE BEST PLACE TO BE– about how a grownup remembers what she wanted as a kid, and talks about what it feels like to get your wish.

Over at The Furnace, Madelyn has given us the color of her memories, the flavor of those years, and made me want to cry, remembering our own cornbread dinners.

At Aqua Fortis, a moving description of how books helped Sarah not just escape, but also return when her parents split up.

At A Mom’s SPare Time, Ami has mananged to weave a (generous, thank you) review of my book into a story about her parents’ divorce, which I find truly surprising. fairly inspiring,  and maybe totally brilliant.

Colby Sharp shares a story from a clear-eyed brave young students, and makes me want to cry.

Kurtis, the author of Tanglewood Terror (see above) chimes in.

At Saints and Spinners, Farida posts about  small pleasures (3 sets of grandparents) and the pains (secret keeping).

And while you’re here, stop and read the comments. Some touching things down there.


18 Responses to “What we talk about when we talk about divorce…”

  1. Kelly Hitt Says:

    I will post on my blog about my experience…odd as it may be. Perhaps I’ll find out it wasn’t/isn’t that strange. I’ll definitely post a picture of the cover of Bigger than a Breadbox! Um…just as soon as I figure out how. :)

  2. Emma Says:

    Pizza nights with Dad?! Try cornbread and prune juice nights with Dad. Damn, if he didn’t make good cornbread though.

  3. Kurtis Says:

    I’ll have to think about this before blogging. Thanks for posting it.

  4. laurel Says:

    SOME kids got pizza nights with dad. ANd there was Merendinos.

  5. laurel Says:

    Kurtis, I didn’t really mean to DARE you. I just love that you and Kelly and Anne and I all have divorce in our books this fall…

  6. Kerry Says:

    “Grownups really need to believe, when splitting up, that “divorce is for the best” or that “we’ll all come through it okay” because “kids are so resilient.”

    This isn’t always true, is it? Divorce is a pretty devastating thing for kids, and it doesn’t get that much easier, the way it complicates and awful-cates family life. Canadian Thanksgiving is coming up in a few weeks, and scheduling is already a nightmare. Makes me want to forget the parents altogether and hunker down with my own little family whose arrangements are so much *easier*. I so long for a proper home to go back to, for parents who don’t have to schedule holidays around other people’s children (or who don’t resent it when I spend time with another parent).

    Anyway, I can’t post about this on my blog because my mom is my most avid reader, and then she’ll call me crying and angry…

    I’m looking forward to reading your book though. Congratulations!

  7. Suzanne Says:

    As with so many stories, mine begins with despair and ends in joyful gratitude.

    In 1968, my mother was pregnant with me at 17, married at 18, 1st divorced at 20 to a once-decent young man who came back from the Vietnam war at 21 a severely damaged alcoholic. Moving away to another state meant exciting and scary airplane rides alone every summer back to my grandmother’s house to see my dad, but his nightly drinking out really meant summer’s were being spoiled by grandma with sporadic sober daytime trips to fish for catfish at a local park and digging for fat, slimy nightcrawlers the night before.

    Her 2nd choice (I was 5) was an older divorced man with 5 kids of his own who was a rampant pedofile who abused me from the time I was 8 until I turned 12, they divorced when I was 14. Not much else to say for that era except that it was survived, and formed me into a hypervigilant mother who struggles daily with allowing her children independence and freedom vs keeping them all within an arm’s reach every minute of the day.

    Her 3rd walk down the aisle was to another divorced man, a career firefighter, with 1 child about my age. I was 16 and kept my distance, the walking texbook definition of a defiant, angry teenager (justified in my mind). At 17 my car broke down with a flat tire, he was the only one home. He came to get me, but instead of fixing the tire himself, he walked me through the steps and made me do it myself. He said he couldn’t bare the idea of me breaking down somewhere and not being able to keep myself safe. Later back home that day he made me learn how to change my own engine oil and basic car maintenance. That was the day the first brick from the wall I built between us came down. Twenty-seven years later, I am proud to introduce him to people as my father, and even prouder to be claimed as his daughter (not a step anything, but just, his kid). He is the only grandfather my children know and learn from. Even though it came late in my life, I am more fortunate than so many of my friends to have a man in my life that taught me what a good man and father should be so I knew it when I met it in the form of my future husband.

    After he had to convince me hard to say yes, every day since of my 15 year marriage, I put my experiences with divorce as a child to work in my favor. I work hard at communication and honesty to keep my marriage healthy and strong. It is only recently in the last 10 years I’ve allowed forgiveness for her mistakes to permit my mom and I to have a loving relationship that benefits both of us and my children; much of that is due to the man I call my father. If I had never met him, I don’t believe I would have the life of joy and laughter that I cherish with my own family every day.

    So yes, I do believe that children can be deeply effected, and forever changed by their childhood experience with divorce. Divorce is such an emotion-fueled event, and we are an emotion-driven species, how could it not shape who we become throughout our lives?

  8. Dorothy Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading “Breadbox,” too. I don’t have a blog, but I do have a divorce story. I was not quite thirty last spring when my mom came to town for the weekend. We bought dresses and looked at art all Saturday, we talked about our work like grownups (she’s a therapist and I’m a teacher), we put on our new dresses and went out and got margaritas at a brightly lit taqueria. It was there, sitting on the porch with the fans blowing our hair into our drinks, that she said “your dad and I are in counseling…” and right away I could see from the expression on her face that it wasn’t leading toward reconciliation. For so many reasons, their divorce IS the right thing, but I’ve felt twenty years younger for the last six months. Facing their divorce, I feel like a child, and I can make sense of it only in images, impulses, half-wrong wishes.

  9. gretchen Says:

    This is a great idea, and I have too much experience and too many stories to write here, but I’ll say just a few things. My parents divorce was scary and traumatic: seemed sudden, my dad moved to NYC (we lived in Chicago), we were in the middle of moving so we had to live in a friends attic for 6 months (mom, brother, and I), my dad called me crying a lot, my mom started drinking a lot more, my brother was young and confused, both my parents communicated through me, and fought over where I would live. I ended up staying with my mom and brother. Our lives changed drastically, it meant lots of alone time for me, going from living in a nice house, to an attic, to an apartment, flying alone with my brother to NYC, landing in LaGuardia for the first time (this was before airlines were super good about kids flying alone), and many many years of intense hostility. The hostility remains actually. Throw in a new stepmother and siblings (dad), a move to a different town (Oak Park to Hyde Park), and other random fragments and that is the bad-divorce recipe. So my experience of it, and memories of it, are extreme sadness and fear. Those feelings never completely leave you, I don’t think, and have had serious consequences for both my brother and I, life-long ones. But of course we are all resilient, we survive, but the sadness remains in the background.

  10. gretchen Says:

    But one other thing: *how* a divorce is handled and experienced, how children are treated during it (do they feel safe? protected?) is the difference between real resiliency and wholeness, and a sadness that lingers.

    So divorce always impacts children, but the intensity and register of that impact can be managed by parents who are paying attention.

    Thanks, my two cents!

  11. Christine Says:

    This makes me look forward to reading Bread Box. I’ve only experienced divorce from the perspective on an elementary/middle school teacher – which is why I won’t be blogging about it, someone would assume I meant them.

    But in general, even when the adults try hard to get along and have an amicable end – it’s brutal for the kids. I’ve seen kids try to hide their emotions from parents they perceive to be already overwhelmed. I’ve watched kids cross their fingers that their teacher, or a family friend will marry one of their parents. I’ve seen acting out and scarily silent, mournful and complete disbelief.

    The hardest part is having all the sympathy in the world, but having to help kids move on because as much as it stinks, this is their life and it isn’t going to change. The world won’t give you a pass because you acted out in response to circumstances beyond your control. You still need to pass the fourth grade, get along with your friends, learn your multiplication tables and remember which house your shoes are in.

    Kudos for taking on a tough topic – can’t wait to read it.

  12. Sarah Stevenson (aquafortis) Says:

    Wonderful post, Laurel. I’m looking forward to reading the book. I’ve put up a post on my personal blog, which I’ll also link to from Finding Wonderland: http://aquafortis.blogspot.com/2011/09/laurel-snyder-on-divorce-and-her-novel.html

    Thanks for opening up a heartfelt discussion of the topic!

  13. Bigger than a Breadbox « Madelyn Rosenberg Says:

    [...] help promote the book, Laurel asked for divorce stories from those of us whose parents divorced when we were at a vulnerable age, which is to say when we [...]

  14. Ami Says:

    I’ve posted my review and experiences here:


    Kerry, my parents both remarried, and both married people who had extended family. After years of being pulled in a dozen different directions and getting thoroughly sick of turkey and ham, my brother and I put our feet down. We told our mother she could have us Christmas Eve, and our father he could have us Christmas Day, and that was it. We enjoyed ourselves much more after that…and my mother always made lasagna:)

  15. My Student, My Hero « sharpread Says:

    [...] Laurel’s Request [...]

  16. Saints and Spinners Says:

    Hi Laurel,
    Here is my divorce story blog post:

    I wonder if people can read between the lines, or if there is something lost in the editing. I wish it were funny! If I could have a wish granted, it would be to write stories that make people laugh. Maybe there’s an exercise in itself– a story for teens about divorce, and it’s a comedy.

    Thank you for requesting our divorce stories. I look forward to reading Bigger than a Bread Box.


  17. Sondy Says:

    Laurel, you already know my reaction to Bread Box from my review. I found this post when I was adding links to your site. Reading it makes me realize that I never had the least fear my parents would divorce. I didn’t think that was something Christian families did. And good grief, with 13 kids and my Mom a stay-at-home Mom, my Dad would have to have been an awful skunk to abandon her. But they honestly love each other, and now he’s wonderful with her, even though she has a rather early case of vascular dementia. We were so secure, we joked about what would happen if they split up and Mom took the odd-numbered kids (including me, number three), and Dad took the evens. Dad would end up with all the laid-back emotion-stuffers, and Mom’s house would have been wildly over-dramatic!

    However, all that security just contributed to my own utter devastation when my husband left me. I didn’t see it coming at all. Christians don’t do that, remember? (And his parents are together, too.) I so wanted him to come back, clung so hard to our marriage. And was so angry that he would do that to our kids.

    But Laurel, I really like the way you don’t try to tell the “universal story of divorce.” You’re telling Rebecca’s story, and telling it well. The story feels REAL, with good and bad things about the divorce. It’s never preachy, saying this is how you should respond. She responds real well in some places and badly in others. But it’s her story, and we feel like she’s going to make it, even though we wish that hadn’t happened to her.

  18. Larry Says:

    My parents divorced when I was a teenager. They split up for a while and got back together. The family moved to the suburbs to start a new life in a new home. A few years later, nothing changed. Things went back to the way they were before the breakup. My Dad drank and was totally jealous and left us. I never married, I’m 60 now. Didn’t want to turn out like my Dad.

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