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“Why now?!” 8 Challenges for Adult Children of Divorce

When people think of divorce’s impact on kids, we usually picture young children. However, there are many unique challenges faced by adult children of divorce. Walking into the house you grew up in and seeing your family pictures taken down, having lifelong holiday traditions cancelled, or having your parents try to pit you against one another can feel painfully confusing. With divorce after 50 on the rise, more and more adults are facing the challenges of their parents going their separate ways.

So what can you expect as an adult child of divorce? If your parents are calling it quits, here are 8 things to prepare yourself for:

1. Avoiding the “toxic triangle”

If you were a kid when your parents split, they’d probably try to shield you from their problems. As an adult, however, they may feel comfortable sharing T.M.I. or putting you in unfair positions. Know that they may try to come to you as an advisor, confidante, or ally. Guard your emotional health by setting clear boundaries with both of your parents.


“I love you Mom, but I’m not willing to spy on Dad.”
“I understand you’re mad at Mom, but I won’t tolerate you badmouthing her to me.”
“I love you but I can’t be your therapist. I can help you find a specialist who can be.”

2. Feeling at fault

Young children often feel guilt surrounding their parents’ split, and this holds true for adults as well. Parents often tell their adult children that they would’ve divorced years ago but stayed together for the kids. This places a tremendous amount of guilt on their kids and can leave them wondering if their childhood was all a lie. It’s important to remind yourself that children are never responsible for their parents’ marriages and their decisions and actions are in no way your fault.

3. Being overlooked

Parents of adult children often wrongfully assume that because their kids are grown and mature, they’ll just get over it quickly. The many strains of divorce can also make your parents seem a bit self-absorbed while they’re adjusting to their new lifestyles. It’s important that you lean on others to acknowledge your feelings and support you as you cope with the pain of your parents’ divorce.

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4. Having a “new normal”

Brace yourself for several adjustments in various aspects of life. Traditions, holidays, and family gatherings may be altered to accommodate both sides. If either of your parents start to date, it’ll take a while for the “weirdness” to wear off of them being with someone else. If your parents are living alone, you might be asked to take on more responsibilities such as errands, housework, or financial obligations. Determine what level of support you feel is appropriate and work with siblings or other relatives to share responsibilities.

Struggling to care for both your kids and your aging parents? Click here

5. Rethinking role models

Your parents were your first relationship role models, so their divorce can make you question marriage in general. You may feel a lack of certainty in your own relationships after seeing your parents split. Remember that your parents don’t have to be your only relationship role models. Surround yourself with couples in strong and healthy relationships to remind you that enduring commitments are achievable.

6. Emotional ups & downs

Maybe you’ve seen this for a long time coming and are upset your parents didn’t divorce earlier. Perhaps you feel guilty thinking that your parents stayed in an unhappy marriage for your sake. You might even feel relief, knowing deep down that this was the healthiest outcome. Know that there is no wrong or right way to feel about this situation and you can expect a wide range of emotions as you process your parents’ separation.

7. Soothing with self-care

The loss of your parents’ life together is significant, and you have a right to grieve. One benefit of being an adult during their divorce is that you have more freedom and independence to care for yourself. Take time to do things that make you feel happy, refreshed, and at peace – go to the beach, hit the gym, eat well, meditate, try a new hobby, or plan a weekend getaway.

8. Seeking support

Parents are often the people we turn to when life gets tough, but that may not feel like an option when their divorce is what’s weighing you down. A Specialist who understands the emotional impact of divorce can listen to your situation and support you in overcoming challenges.

*Please note: since the publishing of this blog, Variations Psychology has narrowed its focus to diagnostic testing and psychological evaluations. Our Doctors can evaluate whether you or your loved one have a diagnosis and guide you through the next steps in achieving your mental health or academic goals. While Variations does not offer counseling, our diagnostic evaluations allow us to refer patients to specialists who are best equipped to meet their needs. In addition, this link can guide you through a directory of therapists, psychiatrists, treatment centers, and support groups in your area.

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More about Variations Psychology

Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.


A Sea Change in Family Values? (2005, December). Monitor on Psychology. [American Psychological Association]. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/dec05/sea

Containing Conflict in Divorce Battles. (2005, December). Monitor on Psychology. [American Psychological Association]. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/dec05/battles

Julien, J. G. (2016, April 21). Never Too Old to Hurt From Parents' Divorce. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/fashion/weddings/never-too-old-to-hurt-from-parents-divorce.amp.html

Shinn. M.M. (2018). How to Care for Aging Parents While Raising a Family:8 Tips for the Sandwich Generation. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-to-care-for-aging-parents-while-raising-a-family-8-tips-for-the-sandwich-generation  

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). “Why Now?!” 8 Challenges for Adult Children of Divorce. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/why-now-8-challenges-for-adult-children-of-divorce