Adult Children of Divorce Face Different Challenges Than Children of Divorce
Why it can be difficult to be an adult when your parents divorce
Grey Divorce (divorce over 50) rates have nearly doubled in the past 25 years, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. With this sharp increase, adult children are now seeing their parent’s divorce more often. Some adult children are shocked to find that as soon as they turn 18 and go off to college, their parents file for divorce. Even as an adult, seeing your parents go through a divorce is never easy.
Adult children of divorce face different challenges than younger children of divorce do. You may think that it’s easier being an adult child of divorce; they don’t have to go back and forth between houses every week and they don’t have to be around their parents fighting all the time. But, adult children of divorce still face problems that aren’t discussed often. They are expected to handle their parent’s divorce in a less emotional way. In this article, we’ll delve into 5 difficult problems adult children of divorce face.
1. Adult Children of Divorce don’t get as much support as children of divorce
While children of divorce receive special care from their parents, adult children don’t get the same support. Adult children of divorce are expected to just “get over it” since they’re an adult and the divorce won’t be directly affecting them as much. Many adult children of divorce have difficulty finding other adults who have had a similar experience or those who are sympathetic to their situation.
Adult children of divorce also may begin to look at their childhood differently, and wonder if their parents were ever really happy together. They may begin to feel distrustful of their parents. Many adult children of divorce over-analyze their childhoods, looking for what went wrong in their parent’s marriage. Often they find that their parents stayed in an unhappy marriage for years just for their children’s sake. This can be an upsetting realization, especially if they were shielded from their parent’s marital problems as children.
2. They become their parent’s confidante
When two parents with minor children make the decision to divorce, they (hopefully) protect their children from some of the drama of their divorce. They rightfully choose to not disclose the reasons for the divorce to them or, if they do, they disclose a watered-down version of the truth.
But, when two parents with adult children make the decision to divorce, they don’t try to protect their children as much, if at all. Their children become confidantes rather than children that need to be protected. They learn the whole truth of why their parents divorced, and the truth can be shocking. Certain details that led to the divorce such as infidelity and money issues may be brought to light.
The two parents may think that because their children are adults they will understand adult problems. As a result, some parents make their adult children their emotional sounding board during the divorce process. But many adult children of divorce can’t be their parent’s confidant, and they don’t want to be. Just because they are adults who understand what adults go through doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any easier to hear about what made their parent’s marriage fail. When parents make adult children their confidantes, it can make them feel resentful towards their parents and ultimately end up hurting their parent/child relationship.
3. They must navigate having divorced parents at family events
Adult children of divorce don’t have to be dragged back and forth between houses, and they don’t have to have duplicates of everything at both houses. But, adult children of divorce still have to navigate family events with divorced parents, which can be a nightmare if they don’t get along.
Birthday parties, weddings, births of children, anniversaries, and holiday gatherings can be stressful situations for adult children of divorce. Sometimes, if the two parents have an amicable relationship, they can both attend those events with few problems. But, if the two parents do not get along, those joyous life events can suddenly become awkward and uncomfortable when they both attend. It can be even more awkward if they refuse to attend the same events. And, when one parent brings a new date or partner to a family event, tension can arise between the two ex-spouses, and this makes everyone at the party uncomfortable. Sometimes, if the two parents have a really bad relationship, their tension can severely impact the family gathering and even ruin it in extreme cases.
Children of divorce are used to this; their parents have had a difficult relationship their whole lives. But for adult children of divorce, it’s a lot more difficult because they have the memories of their parents attending their childhood events together with no conflict. They may yearn to go back to those times, even though they aren’t possible anymore.
Adult children of divorce find that the stress doubles when they have children themselves. They can feel loyalty conflicts between their parents spending equal time with their grandchildren. Sometimes, divorced grandparents argue over the best interests of their grandchildren, and involve their children in their arguments. All of these situations are ones adult children of divorce can face.
4. They may feel left out
Adult children of divorce may have to cope with their parent’s re-marriage or the addition of new step-siblings. Adult children of divorce mourn the loss of their old family, while their parents may be quick to move on to their next family. This can be a difficult transition for them, especially when their parents are so eager to forget about their old family and move on.
Adult children of divorce may be forced into a new, awkward dynamic at family gatherings. Younger children of divorce often adjust easier to seeing their parents date and re-marry, and they get used to having step-siblings. But for adult children of divorce, it’s tough to see their parents date or marry new partners and have a new family. They aren’t used to it, and it usually takes a while for them to feel comfortable with it. This discomfort can cause tension at family gatherings.
5. They may face problems in their own marriages
It’s no surprise that adult children of divorce can become jaded after their parent’s divorce. They may over-analyze their own marriages, and they may believe that one little fight with their spouse means that they’re doomed to go through a divorce. They may become paranoid that they will go through a divorce, just like their parents did.
This, of course, is an unhealthy way to approach marriage. While all children of divorce are slightly more likely to get divorced themselves, it’s not a guarantee. Many children of divorce go on to have healthy, stable marriages, as long as they take time to reflect on how they define having a healthy, loving marriage.
If your parent’s divorce when you’re an adult, you aren’t alone. Grey divorce rates have steadily been climbing over the past 25 years, and this trend is likely to continue. One advantage of being an adult child of divorce, as compared to a child of divorce, is that you can set boundaries with your parents if their arguing becomes too much to handle. You can also enjoy your autonomy and appreciate that you don’t have to constantly be put in the middle of their conflict. Whether you’re an adult or a child, it’s not the end of the world when your parent’s divorce. There are ways to work around the frustrations of having divorced parents. Don’t hesitate to seek help, if you need it. Family counseling, including your parents, may still be in order no matter your age.
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