I was at one of those numerous parties I attended when my wife and I lived in Lusaka in the capital city of Zambia in Southern Africa. It was Saturday night at a University of Zambia Handsworth Court faculty member’s house. The drinks were flowing, people were chatting, and the host was selecting the hot dance records to be played that evening. I began to chat with a 35 year old African American woman acquaintance. After a series of back and forth during the quite ordinary conversation, I casually responded to one her comments: “My parents were always so funny….they would tease each other and us kids….our neighbors called as “the laughing family”…..
“I wish my family was like that growing up,” she said suddenly with a sad look.
“What happened?” I asked expecting some trivial comment.
“My parents were always squabbling when I was growing up. My mother and father would always have these heated fights. My father would threaten that he would leave and then it was mother’s turn to threaten to leave. There was so much tension. I was miserable”.
“I am so sorry,” I said wondering why I had unintentionally opened a can of worms.
“When they finally divorced when I was a teenager, it was a relief but still very painful” she paused. “Look at me now, I was married for 15 years. I have 5 kids and I have just been divorced. Life can be so miserable,” she said as she walked away.
“Oh, My God!”
As she walked away, I had one of those “Oh, My God!” eureka moment. I suddenly realized at that moment that I was one of the luckiest children in the world. There was never any one moment that I thought either one of my parents would leave. They were like the huge trunk of a massive tree; strong, robust, and sure to stand the most violent storms. They were in my life as sure as the sunrise the following morning. Why was that? Why did I not experience the suffering of the soul that comes with parents creating a highly emotionally volatile household topping it with often hostile contentious divorce?
This also reminded me at that time about the torment of the soul another Zambian childhood friend experienced. Her name was Josephine. I stayed at her family’s home in Chipata when I was 17 and she was 13. She complained at the time that her father had left her mother for another woman. Her father had divorced 3 times and now was with his fourth much younger wife. I didn’t think her comment was important at the time.
I accidentally met Josephine along Cairo Road in Lusaka 22 years later as a married woman at the age of 35 with 3 children. I invited her to a quick lunch so we could catch up since our brief childhood together. She told me she had married an abusive man who hit her. She showed me a scar on her lip from some of the beatings. She again mentioned that her father had left her mother when she was small. Her words just about broke my heart. What is it about constant tensions in the family and ultimately divorce that creates such long lasting deep suffering of the soul and subsequent deep emotional scars in children 22 years later and for rest of their lives?
Looking back, my mother and father never had any serious arguments in front of us children. They must have argued and discussed any serious problems with themselves and other adult family members. The arguments they had were never constant bickering, earth scotching and Armageddon or end all types of arguments where they belittled each other, exchanged vile insults or threatened to leave and abandon the family. They provided the discipline, food, physical security in terms of a roof over our heads, emotional security of love, encouraged us to get an education, be kind to others and they made all of us work in our family field with a hoe in the hot sun to grow food which am thankful for. Because we learned about the importance of not just academic school work but also the importance of perseverance and hard physical work. During the moments we worked in the fields, we talked, laughed, ate meals, and the younger siblings played.
As a result, my siblings and I grew up emotionally very stable and eternally optimistic about life in the world without being naïve. We experienced real tragedy in the family as several siblings died. The worst one was when my brother died in 1966. Looking back, my parents were not perfect but with the little they had and could do created a family in which our souls as children thrived.
The other conditions that virtually eliminate the extreme suffering of the soul for a child is being or living with so many loving extended family relatives. My mother and father’s villages were about one mile apart. As a child I had easily over 100 hundred relatives including friends that I was with every day.
Why the Suffering Souls
The reason why the suffering souls of children is at its worst when parents are constantly bickering, creating tension, and eventually divorcing, is that the source of the suffering soul of the child is the fear of being abandoned and unloved. The suffering soul of the child is the persistent emotional pain they feel when something negative happens to their mother and father. It feels to them as a mixture of anxiety, fear, anger, nervousness, anguish, grief, loneliness, and apprehension. The greatest, enduring, lifelong eternal gift my parents and all the relatives gave to my 8 siblings and I is that they have stayed together married for 69 years. The extended family relatives are still there today continuing to provide an emotional and psychological security blanket to my now adult soul.
Abbas, Jen., Generation EX: Adult Children of Divorce and the Healing of Our Pain, Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBook Press, 2004.
Corman, Avery., The New Parent Trap: Can there be a “good divorce”? The author of Kramer vs. Kramer on the myth and reality, in The Reader’s Digest, September 2004.
Suffering Soul Child Divorce by Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.