Children of divorce find a home in college

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Alice Feng/The Occidental

In New York City, everyone around me was hustling in some form or another. I was hustling too. I was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper; I did theater tech five days a week; and every Wednesday morning I would lug my computer, my birth control, my charger, my soccer uniform and my life from my dad’s house to my mom’s.

I was a child of divorce living in one of the most stressful cities in the world. My life was split in two. I had two train routes, two apartments, two conflicting parenting styles and — at times — two identities. When I came to Occidental, I suddenly found myself living one stable life. Upon arriving at my dorm room on move-in day, I began allocating my things to different drawers, realizing that everything would stay in its place all the time. While many feel that college can be tumultuous, college has been stabilizing for me: I am finally able to develop my identity in one environment.

I was 13 years old when my parents split, and I felt immediately thrust into adulthood. I became responsible for my own mental health as well as my brothers’. In terms of self-parenting and independence, I found it was easier to raise myself amidst my parents’ identity crises. A study conducted by the National Institute of Health states that children of divorce “may show accelerated maturity and independence” as they attempt to separate themselves from the taxing emotional state of their parents.

After my parents’ divorce, my mom underwent her own journey to rediscover herself independent of the experiences shared by me and my two younger brothers. She took solo road trips and ran half marathons while we cheered her on. But at home, she remained somewhat immobilized, unable to perform tasks that my dad previously did. Instead of eating Shake Shack and staying out late in Prospect Park on weekends, I found myself cleaning up our apartment and installing air conditioners. I was envious of my friends who lived in a single house and had parents who let their kids be kids. A large part of me feels that I missed out on my true teenage years.

When I started my college application process, I knew I wanted to go farther away than most people. For me, college presents an opportunity for me to finally grow, uninterrupted by my parents’ needs. All my pills are in one drawer, and I don’t need two sets of chargers. I feel more like a kid in college than I did at home. Not only is my living situation consolidated, but so are my emotions. I don’t have to put on a mask or use a different tone depending on which house I am at. I can finally do my work without my mother asking me to put my life on hold for two loads of laundry.

Occidental, which prides itself on being a strong and welcoming community, gave me a chance to rediscover myself. Through my involvement on campus, I feel that my work ethic is valued outside of my own home. I have more room in my life for fun and adventure, with my trips to York Boulevard and talk of new piercings. I’ve grown to love my late night walks to the Cooler and spontaneous ice cream purchases. My friends here know a version of me that is unaffected by which house I’m staying at.

Now, I mostly interact with my parents on the phone, where their only task is to talk to me about my life with no strings attached. They’ve begun to ask me more about my life and give me more advice. Since I am separated from their physical lives, we have become more emotionally intertwined through our long conversations, even if they’re just about my shenanigans and my tiny dorm room.

Recently, however, I found myself scared to go home for winter break. Having gotten used to the stability that comes with both living on my own and in one space, I don’t know if I want to experience the push and pull that comes with being an adult child of divorce. Winter break of my first year of college should serve as a reset button for my happily upended life, not a plunge back into the stress of juggling two parents who want and expect different things from me. But although I’ve sometimes felt scared to go back home, Oxy gives me the tools to take ownership of my choices. Through my new college “family,” I’ve learned how to set and accept boundaries. My confidence has skyrocketed as I realize my value as a friend and community member.

I don’t want to revert back to my old self now that I know what it’s like to be on the other side of things. Hopefully, I am able to keep my current relationship with my parents alive and well in New York. For now, I’m ready to keep being a kid. My college diet consists of cold brew coffees and gummy bears, and I still get a rush from staying up late. I feel free of my parents’ mistakes, as I’m now free to make my own.

The last time I FaceTimed my friend from home, I told her I felt as though I was being too crazy in college now that I wasn’t hustling all the time.

She looked straight into the camera.

“You are not crazy, you honestly seem more liberated,” she said.

Sophie Steinberg is an undeclared first year. She can be reached at ssteinberg@oxy.edu.