Lifestyle

Lockdown is hard enough without juggling divorced parents

Like 6.3million others in the UK, being furloughed from my job has left me with no choice but to return home.

While I’m extremely thankful to have a place to come back to without the pressure of finding somewhere new to rent (the lease on my flat also expired) there’s no doubt that being part of a fractured family poses its own set of challenges under lockdown.

It’s hard not to feel like you’re regressing to your teenage self when you’re an independent adult moving back into your childhood bedroom. But this feels particularly true when there is no one specific ‘home’ to go to.

For years, shuttling between two houses felt like being on a permanent seesaw that drained me physically and emotionally. Christmas — a celebration that previously filled me with so much joy — became a time of anxiety where the biggest decisions no longer revolved around decorations and buying gifts, but picking a parent.

When our ‘happy home’ collapsed in 2004, I had a hard time grasping how life would change. I stopped trusting my own perceptions. Witnessing the destruction of our family unit at the age of 11 was like a different type of grief; one where I found myself mourning the loss of all those things I’d taken for granted, like family holidays, the predictability of normal life, my mum and dad in the same room.

On the day our beloved family home – our sanctuary for eight happy years – was sold, I lay on the floor of my bedroom in protest.

It was decided we would live with my mum, although I don’t remember it being much of a discussion.

Open communication had never been a big part of our family dynamic, which is why there had been no real explanation at the time of their separation. Spotting my mum reading a book about broken marriages, I asked her if she and my dad were getting a divorce. She nodded, confirming my worst fears.

The sense of security I’d felt as a child was what had allowed me to feel safe enough to live carefree and without worry. When that was stripped away, I no longer felt equipped to deal with life’s unpredictabilities — not least the fact that a friend of the family we had welcomed into our home was the root cause of their divorce.

This violation of trust on my mum and her new partner’s behalf paved the way for anger and resentment in the years that followed, while also spurring me to assert my independence.

I found solace in escaping, first to university in Sheffield, and later to Canada once graduating. It felt good to finally be in control of my decisions, and for the first time, I didn’t feel paralysed by the relentless carousel of unhappy memories.

But seeing those around me retreat back to stable homes during the coronavirus lockdown only amplified the fact that mine was not.

I would like to say the problem was in the structure, not in the individual, but that would be a fabrication of the truth.

My mum re-marrying meant we were forced to adjust to living with the same person responsible for breaking apart our family — something which required a level of pretence I failed to sustain.

The reluctance on my part to salvage any kind of relationship with him, paired with constant reminders of my turbulent teenage years in which my actions were labelled ‘rude’ and ‘melodramatic’, meant I never felt completely comfortable at home.

So, in effort to squash any further hostility, I decided to see out the remainder of quarantine with my dad. And while it’s been generally relaxed, it hasn’t been without its problems.

Last week, despite warnings to social distance, my dad’s partner agreed to celebrate her grandson’s birthday in the garden.

‘I want some time with my family,’ she said, dismissing his efforts to comply with lockdown rules. Since I was welcomed into their home after moving back from London, perhaps it seems like double standards.

When we’re all trying to maintain some semblance of normality, I’ve questioned whether living with my dad for the first time is too big a change — and like everyone separated from their family and friends, there are times when I’m hit by a wave of melancholy wondering when I’ll get to hug my mum again.

Combine the rules of lockdown, which require everyone in the same household to stay put, with the problem of an unconventional family and you’ve entered into —at the risk of sounding like a politician — unprecedented family territory.

In an ideal world, we would gather everyone we love under one roof and quarantine together. Yet even without the current crisis, navigating this kind of family dynamic will continue to be a work in progress.

I’m fortunate that my parents live close enough for me to run to my mum’s and chat to her and my brother – who moved back in with her about a year ago – from the driveway. And until things change, that will be my compromise.