The Impact of Divorce on Adult Children

It’s common knowledge that divorce has a negative impact on the children of that marriage. Of course, kids usually struggle greatly when their parents split up, and these struggles may be emotional, psychological, or academic. It’s easier to dismiss the ramifications of divorce on adult children. However, studies indicate that grown children of divorce also struggle in important ways.

Gray Divorce

Gray divorces are divorces that happen when the spouses are over age 50. By the time two people have been married for this length of time, they have usually established a large network or community of acquaintances, friends, and extended family. The divorce effectively shatters this community, which affects not only the divorcing spouses but their adult children as well. Adult children may feel a loss of identity when the marriage fails. They may also wonder about the family unit they grew up in and whether it was just a big show for the world. Losing important family traditions and togetherness, imagining very different future events like weddings and graduations with the fractured family, losing touch with extended family, and losing the family home can all be very significant sources of pain and grief. The children of these adult children can also be negatively impacted by a gray divorce.

Are Adult Children Equipped to Handle a Gray Divorce?

Young children are often sheltered from the strong emotional impact of a divorce, but adult children are assumed to have the emotional maturity to handle it. Often, one or both parents will actively draw the children into the process and the adult children are expected to provide emotional support to one or both of their parents. But even when kids are grown, they should be relative outsiders to the divorce process. Parents should only share details the kids need to know.

Understanding Grief That Follows Divorce

Grieving does not just apply to death. Experiencing life-changing events like divorce will also result in feelings of loss and grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the well-known stages of grief as presented by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. These stages can also apply to grieving a divorce. Another grief theory focuses on the loss of important attachments. Divorce can break these attachment bonds, which leads to profound grief. Expressing feelings of anger, guilt, sorrow, and confusion is important to move past the grief. The grieving process is unique for everyone, but after experiencing the pain and taking time to adjust to the loss, most people move into acceptance of the divorce.

How Parents Can Support Adult Children Through a Divorce

Adult children can be devastated by a divorce. The breakup of the family unit can cause deep grieving. The loss of the family home can also be very upsetting for adult children. Expect that the divorce will be very disruptive to adult children’s lives. They may feel compelled to choose a parent to support, usually the one they think is more vulnerable. Parents should resist receiving this support from their children. It is more appropriate for peers or professionals to be a source of support for divorcing parents. Never place an adult child into the position of messenger or spy. Give them permission to love and support both parents equally. Adult kids shouldn’t be involved in any financial aspects of the divorce, either. Make sure there’s no guilt involved for adult kids, who may feel like the parents wasted years staying together for the sake of growing children.

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