The realisation that your parents are actual people can be horrifying.

It’s like seeing one of your teachers outside of school, or Matthew Perry playing a character that isn’t Chandler.

You get used to seeing your parents in certain, parenty roles and it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that they exist outside of that realm; that they forget birthdays, that they send needy messages, that they feel fat some days, that they fall in love.

That they fall out of love.

And they also go through break ups.

For some people, when their parents break up, it can feel like their entire world is crumbling around them. As though the stable life they have always known has been blown apart.

For others it can feel like an enormous relief, an end to an unhappy household and parents who fight all the time.

But even if you expect it to happen, even if you knew it was coming, it can still hurt like hell.

I was seventeen when my parents broke up and I didn’t see it coming.

I was wrapped up in my own life. I was taking my final exams, I was navigating my way through my own, very intense relationship, I was trying to decide what I wanted to study at university. I didn’t notice the other things that were going on in our house.

I didn’t see that my parents were hardly talking anymore. I clocked that my mum was crying a lot, but I put that down to her becoming more emotional as she got older. I was aware that my dad was coming into my room more often to hang out, but I thought it was because he was worried about me going away to university next year and having an ‘empty nest’.

But when they finally told me, I felt the pieces click into place. I felt stupid and self-absorbed and confused. I had no idea what to say or what to do or how to act.

I mistakenly thought that because my parents had survived four children, five different cities and 30 years of marriage, that they were somehow immune from divorce.

When dad moved out, my boyfriend helped me pack all my dad’s clothes into big black bin bags and stuff them in the back of my car. We counted up all the spare change in his top drawer, separated it into different currencies and took it to the bank. We made cookies with my new Christmas-shaped cookie cutters.

I remember holding my mother as she cried and realising that I had never been the one doing the holding, I was always the one being held. My mother had spent her whole life taking care of me, and now I decided it was time for me to take care of her. And sometimes, she’d let me.

I would go to the supermarket and return armed with what I considered precisely the amount of chocolate to cure her broken heart. We would lie curled on the sofa watching films and she would fall asleep resting her head on my shoulder. When the film was over I would carefully nudge her awake and tell her ‘it’s bedtime,’ while I turned off the lights in the living room.

My parents got back together in the end, so I guess I was luckier than most. Now, they hold hands like teenagers who can’t bear the idea of being apart.

And sure, it was a crappy, emotional, chocolate-filled time but I learned a lot from the experience. The thing that stuck with me the most was that sometimes adults will act like teenagers and sometimes teenagers will act like adults. After all, we’re all just people in the end.

Image: Getty

If you have separated parents (or the blessed fortune of having a ‘weekend home’), you’ll know the pain, pleasure and relentless packing that accompanies a life lived between two houses.

The good news is, it gets better – or rather, you get better at it as the years go by. The bad news is that by the time you leave home(s) you’ll be such a pro at the two-house thing you’ll genuinely struggle to adjust to living in one…

It’s at the other house

Whatever it is, it’s at the other house when you need it. It could be small or large, life-enhancing (eyeliner) or as a essential as your beating heart (phone charger): cometh the hour, cometh the moment you realise you know EXACTLY where it is, and it’s about 12 miles away, along the A22.

You can see it in your mind’s eye. You distinctly remember looking at it and thinking, ‘I shan’t forget you my friend,’ then getting a distracting WhatsApp and never looking back. My advice to you would be ensure everyone in your family has the same phone (if they haven’t already), and to make steps toward implementing the below scenario immediately.

You have double of everything…


Like a material Noah’s Ark, if it’s necessary to your life you’ve got it doubled – whether it’s toothbrush, pyjamas, hair brush or wellies. But unlike Noah’s Ark, the crucial difference between them is that one is always older and lamer than the duplicate: Little Mermaid pyjamas and a toothbrush that more closely resembles your doormat, for example, versus an electric number and some snazzy shorts from New Look.
The trick is balance: you can bear the fact your pants at mum’s have all the days of the week on them in fluorescent colours, as long as you’ve got a room with half decent wifi access and GHDs at her house. In the end though, you will probably end up lugging the best stuff between the two.

…except when you don’t


The day you need to watch Sky will be the day you’re at the house which has never had Sky, never will, and why-do -you-want-Sky-anyway-read-a-book. This is less of an issue in the giddy age of Netflix, but the principle also extends to Freeview, games consoles and the good telly. If only it were so easy to blag a second 34 inch flat HD screen of your parents as it is a spare hair dryer and extra sandals.

Breakfast becomes a whole new ball game

Once the most predictable of meals, breakfast steps up a gear when you’re confronted with two homes, each with a different cereal offering. Some cool kids might disagree, but other than “Saturday” I can’t think of a better realisation to have before 8am than ”I’m at Mum’s! That means crunchy nut cornflakes instead of Weetabix!”

Do try to resist playing one parent off against the other on the cereal front, though. Tempting as it is, there’s only so far you can milk it before they cotton on and you’re stuck with plain porridge at both houses for weeks. Blurgh.

You’ve got a ready-made homework excuse

A trembling lip, one solitary tear, and a shaky voice announcing “mum and dad are separated and I left it at Mum’s and I was at Dad’s last night I’m so sorry” works wonders when it comes to letting you off the hook for that maths homework you clean forgot to do last night. Ditto PE kit and musical instruments.

A word of warning however: while rivers of sympathy run deep for the kids of divorces, they do dry up eventually. Try to limit your abuse of your home situation to a maximum of once or twice a term, and to target different teachers each time.

ALSO: this does not work for those of who have a weekend home. You can try it, but if the idea of you leaving your Key Stage 6 textbook by the pool in Provence elicits pity on the part of your teachers, they’re a softer lot than mine…

You live your life out of a holdall

Before reading Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid, I thought me and my brother were the only ones in the world whose lives could be reduced to a single Reebok holdall. Now I realise there’s a whole tribe of us out there, lugging homework, school shoes, chargers and at least five potential Saturday night outfits from one house to the next.

Our necklaces are never not tangled into a knots; our earrings haunt the depths of the bag like bright sea creatures, to be expertly fished out when required; and our tights bear the scars of always, always getting caught in the zip.

You become a master of packing

See above. Where lesser mortals spend days deliberating over how many knickers and what size of body lotion they’ll need for a trip, you pack like a woman on the run from police: ready to leave at a minute’s notice when the sirens sound. By the time they’ve located their adaptor plug, you’re halfway to Rio.

It’s a niche skill, true, but it will stand you in good stead next time you’re late for a plane or decide to engage in some serious crime.

@clare_finney

Image: Unsplash