The Unforeseen Fallout of Divorce :: Adulthood Changes Nothing for Children of Divorce

how divorce affects adult childrenOdds are you have a close family member or friend who has been through a divorce. Maybe it is your own divorce, your parents, or maybe you have only been a spectator. Sometimes it is a clean break, sometimes it is messy, but most often it is a little of both.

I haven’t been through a divorce myself but I am well-versed from the child’s perspective.

My parents’ story began when they were teenagers and ended relatively soon after they said “I do.” My brother and I were really young… as in toddlers. It is a classic story of young love that doesn’t work out. I do not fault my parents and am actually thankful for their divorce in many ways. My parents went on to remarry, having more children and I am so grateful for my siblings and step-parents. My parents, as I have always known them, are polar opposites in many ways and their divorce makes logical sense to me especially as I navigate my own marriage and raise my own children. But understanding and appreciation are not exclusive concepts. There is deep trauma that occurs for children of divorce. Both can co-exist and do for me.

The immediate aftermath of the divorce was ugly.

Not on the part of my parents, but rather my own heartache and confusion. I cried for the other parent when I was with the other; experiencing intense feelings of abandonment and isolation. My parents had 50/50 custody which, as a parent, I appreciate why they chose that route. I cannot fathom going for an extended period of time without seeing my children. I am forever grateful for my brother who represented permanence in a new world that felt so inconsistent. As we got older, there were countless co-parenting struggles. My parents wanted similar things for our futures but their approaches stood in stark contrast. Both of my parents supported us physically as well as financially. Knowing their differences, I imagine the financial part was the most challenging. It definitely got harder before it got better. I could write many posts on what it is like to be a child of divorce, and perhaps one day I will.

As we neared “adulthood,” my parents had a sense of impending relief. No longer would they have to communicate and compromise. My parents weren’t alone in this sentiment, I have also heard it told by others that the finish line is when the children are on their own. I am here to tell you that for children of divorce, that statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, the parents no longer HAVE to communicate and co-parent but for us kids, we will live out our lives with our reality virtually unchanging.

My brother and I are grown, married, and parents ourselves but having divorced parents is very much our reality. We are aware of our parents’ dislike of each other and their lack of mutual respect for each other. Although they do not speak ill of one another, they have done so in the past during stressful times throughout our lives.

Kids don’t forget judgmental or unkind words spoken about their parents, no matter the source.

My brother and I do not live in the same city as my parents. Luckily, the challenges aren’t occurring weekly as they do for many who reside near their parents. However, during holidays, kids’ birthday parties, and vacations, the struggle is very real. As I mentioned, kids remember every unkind word spoken about their parents. We know your true feelings even if you aren’t as vocal as you think. Kids are typically protective of their parents. Imagine our internal struggle trying to plan a family gathering with the knowledge that including either parent may make the other parent uncomfortable at best, and upset at worst. We all know that holidays are often hectic and chaotic, with a calendar full of events. A child of divorce often has to divide their time between parents who are not going to spend the holidays together. We all have responsibilities and full calendars, and taking on more is real stress (especially in already busy seasons). There is an understanding that you may not want to spend Christmas with your ex but for the child, we want to see both parents for the holidays.

When the divorced parents are not friendly, the children are forced to compartmentalize their families.

We learn to avoid uncomfortableness by avoiding discussions of the other parent. When we throw celebrations for our children, we want all grandparents in attendance. Leading up to the event and often throughout we are preoccupied with thoughts about our parents being together. Luckily, my parents have been well-behaved at my kids’ birthdays. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I give it a lot of thought and am relieved when the event ends. The list of examples where children of divorce have to relive their parents’ choices goes on and on: kids’ awards ceremonies, sports, graduations, personal achievements, milestone anniversaries, and vacations. For us children with divorced parents, there is no end. Reaching adulthood changes it for the divorced couple but their children will continue to live with the consequences.

I know my experience is not identical to all children of divorce.

Some parents remain friends long after. Many don’t. For those children, the consequences of the divorce will span the rest of their lives as long as their parents are involved. If you are newly divorced and you share children, take heed that although the marriage is over for you, their parents are theirs for life.


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