The impact divorce can have on young children is well documented. Parents are all too aware of the repercussions of how they handle a separation.
Others choose “stay together for the kids” only to separate later in life when their children are grown and seemingly more able to deal with the realities of their parents’ decision. But studies have shown that parental divorce can have just as big an impact on adult children.
According to psychologist Joann Lukins, there are a multitude of issues, many of which are unique to the adult child (or ACOD – Adult Children of Divorce),” says Lukins.
“While the ACOD may be ‘adults’, we never stop being someone’s child and the impact can be just as strong and have us question aspects of our childhood and family experiences,” says Lukins.
“For the adult child it can feel as if it is not just the parents that are separating, but the whole family.”
According to Lukins, while the advice recommended for parents of young children when divorcing is to not include the children in ‘adult concepts’, such as reasons for separation or legal issues, often ACOD are not spared of those conversations.
“They may find themselves as a key source of support for one or both parents, so rather than being spared from the conflict, they may unwittingly be drawn right into it. It is unfair for a child (regardless of their age) to be expected to hear such comments as, ‘I never really loved him’ or ‘I only stayed with her for the sake of you kids.’
“Such comments can leave a person to question their memories of their childhood, and wonder if some of them were fabricated and not genuinely felt.”
According to Lukins, separation and a sense of loss can still elicit a strong grief response, regardless of our age. The experience of some ACOD is that the lack of understanding by peers and other adults somehow restricts the space they have to publicly grieve for the loss.
She advises the following steps:
1. Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time and permission to grieve.
2. Tell your parents you don’t want to be drawn into he said/she said conversations if they try to include you.
3. Put time into your own relationships.
For divorcing parents:
1. Try to stand in your children’s shoes and understand their feelings. If anger is being expressed, know that it is a manifestation of fear.
2. Respect that your child may pull back from you initially. Respect their boundaries and be there when they are ready to talk.
3. Don’t disrespect your spouse to your adult child. You are leaving your spouse, your child is not – it will not help for you to speak badly of them.
4. Reassure your adult children that your love for them has not changed.