Friday, October 21, 2011

Danielle Younge-Ullman talks about writing, divorce and dysfunctional families

Danielle Younge-Ullman's Falling Under is the story of a reclusive young artist whose past begins to catch up with her when she falls in love. Gripping, disturbing and deliciously dark, it's a book that gets under your skin. I'm honored to have Danielle here to write about it. Thank you Danielle!

Agoraphobia, sex, art, gay rights, religious extremism, alcoholism, dysfunctional families…these are some of the things I talked/wrote about when Falling Under first came out.

But I recently realized I’ve never said, in blunt terms, what the book is about.

Kind of a major omission, I know—one I’m going to remedy right now.

Falling Under is about how hard divorce hits kids, and how deep and long-lasting the effects are.

It’s about how much harder divorce hits a kid when the parents stop being parents.

It’s about how those kids go forward with a profoundly changed view of the world, and how, despite everything they count on being ripped from under them, they bravely adapt and survive.

Finally, it’s about how some of the deepest effects of divorce are not seen until the children become adults and tackle adult relationships. This is where their world-view (often “trust nothing”) becomes hard to live with and the survival skills that got them through child/teenage-hood stop working.

I wrote Falling Under to explore these issues and demonstrate the effects. I hope readers come away with a deeper understanding, and a motivation to do better and be better, whatever their circumstances.

Now, I am not anti-divorce, nor am I in favor of blaming one’s parents for everything.

I am in favor of fighting like hell to save a marriage, YES for the sake of their kids, before giving up. Because as much as people want to tell themselves that getting out of an unhappy marriage will benefit their kids, across the board, statistics say otherwise. (Sorry.)

I am in favor of putting the kids first in every subsequent decision, once you decide to divorce. Difficult? Yes. Impossible sometimes, when two parents have different opinions on what “putting the kids first” actually means? Yes. But TRY, and KEEP TRYING. These kids need to be protected and supported, not used/fought over/abandoned, and/or turned into mini-adults. Many parents, I believe, do their best. Many more could do better.

On the flip side, if you are/were the kid and you’re not coping well and maybe living with a continual feeling that the sky is falling, you are not crazy—you’re having a normal psychological reaction. (This applies even if your parents had a “good” divorce.)

Bottom line: you’re going to need to do some work and/or get some help. Look at where you came from for understanding, though, not for blame, or justification for your own mistakes. Fact is, parents are flawed, and sometimes they’re going to fail to give you what you need, probably because they don’t have it to give. Cultivate empathy. Learn to forgive, because when you’re an adult (and parent) you’re going to fail too sometimes. And know that while this experience may have messed you up, if you pull through it, you will be a bigger, stronger, better person with a deep understanding of the human condition and the fierce power and perspective of a survivor.

That’s it. Now you don’t even need to read the book. But if you do, and you want to drop me a line, you can find me on Twitter @DanielleYUllman and at


Maureen McGowan said...

Fabulous heartfelt post, Danielle. And I'm so excited that this fabulous book is available again!

Katie Alender said...

What a visceral post! And really speaks to so many people who grew up in divided households.

Thanks, Danielle.

Joanne Levy said...

Visceral post is right. Thanks for the great insight behind the book, Danielle. I loved FALLING UNDER when I read it and am going to make the time to read it again because it's just that good.

Jon Clinch said...

Nicely and fiercely done. Thanks for this.

Patry Francis said...

You're writing about something important, something that isn't discussed enough--and you're doing it with passion.

Thank you!