My parents met in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University in the mid 90’s. My mom was in a sorority, my dad a fraternity and they hit it off at a Greek mixer. I came into existence in 1995, they subsequently dropped out of university and moved to Louisville to raise little ol’ me. Two and a half years after I was born, my sister came into the picture, and a year or so after that my parents got divorced. My dad stayed in Kentucky, but my mom needed to move to Indiana to be closer to my aunt and nana.
Every other weekend, every summer, and alternating holidays would be spent at my dad’s in Kentucky (this schedule not strictly followed as I got older) and all schooling would take place in Indiana. The driving distance between my parents was a lengthy three hours; which is short enough to be doable, but long enough to be slightly painful. The divorce wasn’t easy on anyone. It was never a smooth, simple thing. It was uncomfortable and it always felt like someone was deeply hurting more than the other, no one ever on the same wavelengths, and everyone seemingly took turns over-vocalizing the pain in what was usually not the most constructive way. Essentially, none of us made it through unscathed.
When it was time for me to start kindergarten, my mom soon found the Catholic elementary school, St. Ambrose, in Anderson, that seemed like the best fit. Quickly upon starting school, I was also signed up for this afterschool program called Rainbows which took place every Tuesday. A few other kids and myself would all get a ride over to the slightly larger Catholic school in town, we’d dash out of the car for bomb milk and cookies, then talk about our feelings for an hour or so in small groups.
Pretty quickly, all of us kids realized the common denominator between us was that we all lacked a nuclear household.
Rainbows created this community of kids and a safe space that essentially validated our feelings. All of them, every single emotion we felt… we were told it was normal.
If I’m being honest, I don’t remember nearly any of the particulars in those little lessons we had within the small group talks. I was in Rainbows for years, yet I genuinely don’t remember what we talked about each week. I just vaguely remember the constant undertone of reassurance that nothing was our fault, which I understand is a common thing for kids with divorced parents to feel. Though I did (and do) feel responsible for my parents marriage, never in my life have I ever felt to blame for my parents divorce.
The primary memories that stick out from Rainbows are the relationships that it created. There were so many adults that felt (and still feel) like an extension of family, and the best friends I had in that lifetime have transcended into adulthood. All of the friendships, even the ones that didn’t quite withstand the test of time, were/are priceless and heavily impacted my life. They’re the people who just got it. It’s always felt like yes, we’re all in our own boats, but we’re still in the same ocean weathering similar storms.
Rainbows encouraged a deep level of empathy.
We were this group of mismatched kids, varying in age, personality types, and all with different stories: some kids lost a parent, some lived with grandparents, some parents were divorced but still lived close to each other (these were the ones I was most jealous of), some kids didn’t know one of their parents at all – the list goes on. Yet throughout the lessons, we were made to feel that yes, our situation sucks and our story may seem harder than the person’s next to us, but that doesn’t invalidate that person’s pain.
All pain is valid, we are not here on this Earth to decide who gets to feel and what it is they feel.
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In deciding to write this article, I googled Rainbows for the first time ever. Finding out that Rainbows was founded by a woman was not surprising, but it did bring a smile to my face (#girlpower). Rainbows, actually fully named Rainbows for All Children, was founded in the mid 70’s by Suzy Yehl Marta, a divorced mother of three boys. She was devastated when her marriage ended and found solace in a support group. It didn’t take long for her to realize that her sons could also greatly benefit from such a group, but her search for this came up empty. Thus, Rainbows for All Children was born.
“Working with other concerned parents, Suzy began organizing weekend retreats for the children in single parent homes. In three years, more than 800 youth benefited from the retreats. Suzy knew more needed to be done. She started working on a curriculum, the foundation of Rainbows for All Children, for children who experienced loss. The curriculum was designed to provide grieving elementary school children with an understanding of their new family unit, to help build a sense of self-esteem and to give them the tools to properly cope with their loss.”Rainbows for All Children
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Ultimately, it seems Suzy understood that relying on a child’s resiliency isn’t always the best or only answer. Just because kids have the ability to quickly bounce back on their own, doesn’t mean they should be left to their own devices to do so. I mean, think about it: why do adults go to therapy? Typically to finally unpack all of that compartmentalized childhood trauma. So when you think your kid is “getting over it” and “bouncing back” – it’s possible that they’re really just saving that pain for later.