“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.
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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.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a woman struggling with your parents’ divorce, Dr. Davis can support you.
Dr. Christopher J. Sample, Psy.D. specializes in supporting men and teen boys through life’s transitions. If you are a guy who is grappling with your parents’ divorce, Dr. Sample can help you overcome the obstacles that are holding you back.
Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D., is a specialist in Diagnostic Testing and Counseling. If the strains of divorce are drawing a wedge in your family, Dr. Torres can support parents and children in coping with challenges and strengthening relationships.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in Child and Educational psychology. Major life changes such as divorce can cause children to develop anxiety or depression; if your child is struggling to cope with your divorce, Dr. Shinn can provide an assessment to evaluate for a diagnosis.
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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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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