Divorce often leaves kids feeling caught in the middle no matter what their age, but studies show that adult children are the most negatively affected by this process.
Imagine you are an adult child finding yourself in the position of losing not only your family home as your parents divide assets but your family as well. Not only are all your beliefs about what makes up a strong family are going out the window, but also imagine you feel irrationally responsible not only for your parent’s divorce but also for your parents staying in an unhappy marriage “for you”, as the evidence seems to indicate.
Here we describe how most adult children go through their parent´s divorce and how to make it a healthier process for them.
Because these are adults who are involved in their parent’s divorce, their feelings are often ignored. Adults manage their own feelings, clean up their own messes after all. Because their parents treat and expect them to understand, adult children don’t always realize that it’s OK to reach out and find their voice, express their feelings.
If you´re an adult and your parents are getting divorced, you´re more likely to feel guilty for even having feelings and on some level feel responsible for your parent’s divorce.
The evidence is clear. You grew up and left the house. Your parents got divorced… cause and effect?
You became who you are and that triggered their divorce. In your experience, your family collapsed when you left for college. How could you not be responsible?
Loss of First Family
The childhood home has been sold.
All the memories were grounded in that home. All your concepts of family are being destroyed.
Your parent´s divorce is living proof that the way they ran their marriage does not work. That everything you know about making a marriage work came from that relationship.
They are starting over, where does that leave the adult child?
A Different View of the World
Having no real home anymore either physically or emotionally sets adult children apart from adults whose families are intact.
They are different even than children of divorce whose families have had time to heal and provide dual homes for the younger children as they grew up. The reverberations of this worldview are a lack of faith in marriage, lower-income.
They can also be, in some cases, a higher possibility of depression and /or drug addiction etc.
Parental divorce is never “over” for the adult child.
Adult children of divorce will repeat the patterns of their parents if they don’t confront their own feelings of guilt, shame, and abandonment. Continuing to act as if this is normal and good can lead to feeling alone in a crowd. To feeling responsible for other people’s actions, and a neverending sense that life is out of control.
Creating a Foundation for Expression
Helping adults whose families are disbanding is the first step to their internal healing.
The first step to a process in which hopefully they find that even though their parents are divorcing, they still have an emotional foundation that is stable and valid. Parents, understand that your kid is still a kid, they need to be heard. Ask them open-ended questions and just listen to no matter how you feel.
Show them you are listening by repeating back what your hearing and tell them “I get it”, “I understand”, “that must be difficult”.
Awareness and Help Are the Keys
“Kids” who are adults, give voice to your feelings.
Scream in a pillow, go to the gym, talk to your friends who have been where you are, talk to a therapist and/or coach. Expressing yourself is the key. Tap those inner feelings and let them out.
Your parents have complete responsibility for their own choices and their divorce (not you). You don’t need to be their friend or confidant, in fact in this situation it’s not healthy to be in those roles. Keep out of the middle, refuse to listen to complaints about the other parent. It is the parent’s job to guide the child, not the other way around.