YOUTH IN FOCUS: I’m 17 years old and my parents are getting divorced and not showing any concern for me. I feel hurt and lost. I drink at night to take away the pain. I know this is not helping the situation, but what can I do?
Zangpo, Thimphu

I am really sorry about your situation. I know it must be an emotional time for you.
Anyway, first of all, you should remember that you have done absolutely nothing wrong, and that the problems between your mother and father are not your fault. Even though your parents seem not to be showing concern for you, deep inside I’m sure that they love and care for you. It is just that their emotions have clouded their ability to show it.
As for your reaction, it is natural to feel lost and hurt when the people we trust and love appear uncaring, but, as I said, it is not their true feelings. Your parents are also human beings and so they will also sometimes get confused and make decisions that are unhelpful.
Obviously, it is best if your parents can compromise and rebuild their relationship. However, if their marriage is totally broken and your house is always filled with anger and mistrust, then it is probably best that they divorce. Don’t you think so?
Still, if I were you, I would speak up and tell your parents how much you care for them but that their fighting is hurting you badly. It is important that they are made aware of your feelings.
Actually, Zangpo, I know that it is not easy to accept, but everything in our lives will at some time come to an end. Relationships, families and even material things are just the temporary joining together of people and elements. After coming together, they stay for a while and then fall apart. Nothing lasts forever. Consequently, we should always be prepared to let go of what we love and cherish. Even if our parents have long lives and their relationship is strong, one day we will still lose them, either through their death or our own. Although it is a hard lesson to learn, your parent’s divorce is actually preparing you for the realities of life.
While the concept of change is not difficult to understand, it is really hard to accept, especially when it affects the things we love and treasure. We want to say, “OK, I get that everything is impermanent and nothing lasts forever, but I still don’t want my parents’ marriage to break up. Other things can change, but not the things I love.” It would be great if it worked like that, but unfortunately everything in the universe changes and finally falls apart.
When we accept this reality, it doesn’t mean that we become like a stone statue with no feelings. Of course we will be hurt if our parents get divorced or a loved one dies. Who wouldn’t? Sadness is a perfectly natural human response to loss. However, recognizing   that impermanence is intrinsic to existence means that we are not devastated by such events. Instead, we are open to the potential of change. As a result, we become like a sharp-minded samurai warrior: dignified, calm and always prepared.
I don’t know whether this will help you, but I’ll narrate the story of a woman named Kisa Gotami who lived at the time of the Buddha: While playing outside, Kisa Gotami’s only son was bitten by a snake and he died. His devastated mother could not accept that her son had gone and so in a crazed state of mind she ran here and there desperately seeking help to bring him back to life. Of course, no-one could fulfil her request, but someone suggested that she visit the Buddha who was staying nearby. Carrying the body of her son, she rushed to the Buddha and begged him to restore his life. The Buddha agreed to help, but only if she could bring him some mustard seeds. While the seeds that the Buddha required were themselves ordinary, he added a condition that they must come from a household where no-one has ever lost a child, husband, parent, or friend. Kisa Gotami immediately set out to accomplish the task that the Buddha had assigned her.
Everyone she met had great sympathy for her plight and were ready to give her the seeds she requested. However, whenever she asked whether anyone had ever died in the household she always received the same response: “Yes, my father died two years ago”, “my daughter died this year” or “my husband passed away ten years ago”.
From these replies, she slowly began to realize that everyone will die and that one day we will all be separated from our loved ones. With this understanding she again returned to the Buddha. She was still sad to lose her son, but she could now accept his death and so calmly buried his body in a nearby forest. This is an example of how understanding can bring us some mental peace.
With regard your situation, I truly wish that I could tell you that your parents will patch up their relationship and that your life will be problem-free from now on, but I would be giving you false hope. Life is not a fairy tale and everyone lives with anxiety and insecurity – though, of course, some people experience more than others. While there is a possibility that your parents will repair their relationship, it is appears unlikely. Therefore, rather than cling to this hope, it would be better to accept and face reality.
This does not mean, however, that you become hard-hearted and unfeeling. In fact, when you accept reality you will become more in touch with your feelings. Basically, when you feel sad, you can let the sadness be. If you feel lonely, you just allow the loneliness to be. I know this is not easy to do, but if you can let the uncertainty and ambiguity remain and not struggle and fight against it, you’ll find some sense of freedom and peace. As an impatient person who always wants a quick solution, I personally find this difficult to do, but from experience I know that it is the best way to deal with situations.
Still, there may be moments when your mental pain is too overwhelming and you feel you have to get away. At such times, be aware of the consequences of your action and so choose wise options, such as taking a long walk or talking to a friend. Alcohol or drugs offer a quick fix, but do not solve the problem. In fact, once the numbing affect wears off your anguish will return with vengeance and you will again need to drink or pop a pill. Now you are on a very dangerous path that will lead you into much greater suffering and despair. Trust me. Don’t step on this path. Finally, I advise you to identify a trusted elder (an aunt or family friend) to whom you can confide.
On the other side, you should realize that change is not all gloom and suffering. It also means that our pain doesn’t last forever. Even though you may not believe it now, your present suffering will end. Think how many of your friends or family have divorced parents? At the time of the break-up, they felt like you. Now the intensity of the pain has gone. Like a scar on the body. It will heal with time.
In a concluding note to parents entering divorce, please understand that your break up is an extremely traumatic experience for your children. They will feel helpless, abandoned and lost. Many addicts began their drug taking habit at such times. Therefore, throughout the whole process, it is important that you constantly reassure your children that they are not being abandoned and that both you and your partner love and care for them. A child doesn’t need to know how bad the father or mother are and so don’t bring personal resentments into the conversation with your children. Instead, aim to reassure them that their relationship with you is strong, but at the same time advise them that everything changes and finally falls apart. Giving a child wisdom is the best gift a parent or teacher can ever offer.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes.

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