How adult children cope with divorce
Along with the recent announcement of Bill and Melinda’s gates divorce, several publications contacted me regarding the topic the emotional effects of a divorce on adult children. I recently discussed the topic with Insider.
When older people divorce, we often overlook the impact this decision has on the couple’s adult children. They are often treated as if they are only marginal players in an extremely significant disruption in their family life, even though they are major stakeholders in their parents’ divorce. The family they have known their entire lives is disintegrating, yet there is an unspoken expectation that it will not hurt them much because they are grown.
Some adult children start to question their own relationship and their ability to sustain a marriage. In fact, when parents divorce, adult children can feel the loss of their own childhood.
Many older couples who choose to divorce don’t tend to factor their adult children into the equation. The cultural myth is that, since they are adults and at various stages of adult life, their parents’ divorce should not affect them. They are adults, after all, and should be well-equipped to deal with it.
Regardless of their age, however, parental divorce can be extremely stressful and emotional. Younger adult children who may be in college or beginning a career might still be financially dependent on their parents and feel insecure about their future. They wonder if their parents will be able to continue helping them financially. Those in college may worry that they will have to drop out. At a time when they are just launching their careers or juggling work and parenthood, older adult children may need to help one or both of their parents financially, which can be burdensome and strain their own marriage.
There are many ways parents can help their adult children cope with divorce. First, parents must understand that their divorce is affecting their adult children—no matter their ages. Then, they need to listen to what their adult children say they are feeling.
Parents must also understand that adult children are experiencing a lot of losses and are likely grieving these losses. There are holiday, birthday, graduation, wedding, and birth celebrations and traditions that may never happen again as a family. Family factions supporting one parent against the other can rip apart family, extended family, friends, and community relationships, so that adult children lose some of these relationships.
There are many resources available today to help all members of a family, no matter their age, life-stage or role, heal and eventually thrive. Contacting a therapist is a great first step.