The effect of divorce on minor children has been a hot topic for decades.
But divorce can also significantly impact adult children whose parents are divorcing. These adult children report many of the same feelings and experiences.
“My friends at college say I should be glad they didn’t divorce when I was younger because that would have been a lot worse. It’s like they expect me to just ‘get over’ what I’m feeling. I feel so sad and alone,” shared an 18-year-old college freshman.
“It’s been two years since my parents divorced. I was in shock. It was like an earthquake was shaking what I thought would always be the rock-solid foundation of my life. For almost two years, the aftershocks kept shaking me and upending everything in my life,” reported a 27-year-old adult child.
“I just started sobbing out of nowhere, and I didn’t know why. Then I remembered–my family is gone. My family is dead,” recalled a 34-year-old adult child.
“There are so many ‘Nevers.’ Nothing will ever be the same.”
Our cultural myth is that adult children are too old to hurt from their parents’ divorce.
Recent research found that 51% of parents who were 50 years and older reported that their adult children were “unsupportive,” “somewhat upset,” or “very upset” about their divorce. Even among adult children who were supportive of their parents’ divorce, the parents perceived that 67% were very sad, and 19% were devastated.1
Divorce is not a neutral event for children, whether they are minor or adult children.
Adult children suffer in different ways than minor children. When parents are ending decades-long marriages, a frequent refrain from their adult children is: “Home will never be the same again.” Why do they say this?
Adult children experience myriad losses when their parents’ divorce. Below are a few examples.
- Family relationships change. Accustomed to counting on their parents for emotional and sometimes financial support, adult children may lose this support and find themselves in a role reversal where they feel like they are the parents who are supporting their parents. One parent may call them for support and complain about their spouse. Next, the other parent does the same. Adult children feel caught in the middle and are at a loss how to handle this.
- Loyalty issues can arise when one or both parents expect them to side with them against the other parent. Or, siblings and extended family members may pressure them to take sides.
- Siblings call to talk about what is happening and how to deal with it. Life is disrupted just by talking about their parents’ divorce.
- The permanence of their intact family vanishes. Unsettling concerns arise, since the accustomed family traditions, celebrations, and togetherness are no more. Stress ensues about how to handle holiday, birthday, and graduation celebrations. If they have children of their own, they worry about how all of this will affect them. Will their children be able to be with their grandparents and extended family at the same time, when their family is split down the middle?
- They begin wondering if their childhood and adolescence were based on lies and if the appearance their family showed to the world was a façade.
Divorce has many witnesses, many victims…Each divorce is the death of a small civilization. ~ Pat Conroy, American novelist
We expect to grieve when we lose a loved one. Yet, many parents and adult children are unaware that they are grieving the losses—all the ‘Nevers.’ Divorce is the rock that drops into life’s lake, and the ripples of grieving wash over everyone in the family’s circle.
How Collaborative Divorce Helps
The Collaborative Divorce process helps divorcing parents understand their adult children’s concerns and how to explain to them that while some things will change, not everything will. Parents need to reassure their adult children that they, the parents, will not put them in the middle of their problems. They will not share their problems with the children and ask them to take sides.
Collaborative Divorce is a family-focused process that emphasizes that you are still a family.
It is a family apart, but still a family. It is an opportunity for you to minimize the emotional damage to your family, including your adult children. We help you recognize the importance of supporting your adult children through the divorce process and the value of ensuring them that you will always be a family.
We help you schedule holidays and other family events in a way that is best for everyone. We also assist you to get your adult children’s input about how they would like you to be involved in their daily lives and the lives of your grandchildren.
Your divorce will be respectful and amicable. You will have the opportunity to create your legacy about this time in your family’s lives–a legacy that will include what will be best for all family members because you are always a family.
1 Todd M. Jensen and Gary L. Bowen, “Mid- and Late-Life Divorce and Parents’ Perceptions of Emerging Adult Children’s Emotional Reactions,” Journal of Divorce & Remarriage 56, no. 5 (July 4, 2015): 419, doi:10.1080/10502556.2015.1046795.