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The Effects on Adult Children of Divorce

The divorce of one’s parent’s is generally one of the most painful events in life. The adult child can reasonably expect to go through a grieving process, even if they are aware of a history of marital discord. Research indicates that divorce is life’s second highest stressor, second only to death of a loved one. Healing and recovery for adult children of divorce (ACOD) does not happen overnight, it can take years; and their recovery process has been compared to that of a recovering alcoholic.

Oftentimes, ACOD, lack the emotional support to get them through this time. There is a misconception that divorce is harder on younger children, but some research studies have shown that divorce is harder on adult children. In addition to feelings of great loss, the ACOD, can find themselves in all sorts of uncomfortable situations that younger children are spared; such as your parents confiding in you and leaning on you for support. Divorce has long-term consequences for grown children. It primarily affects relationships, your ability to trust, and the loss of availability that can happen when parents remarry and start relationships with their new families. Children, oftentimes do not have the emotional intelligence yet to process this, but ACOD do. ACOD and younger children of divorce will experience loss that comes from losing their childhood home, time as a family, holidays spent together, but the ACOD will experience greater levels of stress and responsibility.

Common effects divorce has on adult children:

1.      Anger- this can be directed at either parents or one parent. Anger is part of the grieving process, so there will be times you will feel anger; and perhaps not just anger at your parents but the new family that has appeared to take your place.

2.     Stress and feelings of additional responsibility- you may feel like you have to take sides, or that you are being disloyal if you spend more time with one parent than the other. You may feel responsible for helping them with their loss, and that just adds to your already stress that you are feeling. You may be constantly worried about their well-being, and take on more of their emotions.

3.      Security and self-worth issues- some ACOD absorb the guilt of their parents’ divorce, and in turn security and self-worth are affected. Everything the ACOD knew to be true about their parent’s marriage, makes them wonder if they can trust and find security with anyone.

4.      Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, rejection, and inferiority- Where do I fit in, becomes a common theme for the aCOD, in particularly if the parent has remarried and has a new family.

5.      Perfectionism can develop- The ACOD will strive to make sure that no more crisis in their lives or the lives of others will happen. The strive to prove their worth and value, and oftentimes become overachievers; in particular if they feel they are having to compete for the attention of their parents new spouse or children.

6.      Depression and anxiety- There has been a loss, and there will be times of profound sadness. Anxiety usually stems from the constant worry and stress that accompanies divorce.
If you are an ACOD, know that you are not alone in your feelings. My parents were married for over 35 years when they divorced, though they had marital problems; I never truly believe they would ever divorce. It was traumatic for me to lose the family that I had known all those years. It came at a most difficult time as well, after losing both of my grandparents; who I was very close to, my parents divorced. It was multiple losses for me. So be on guard if you are an ACOD, there may be other losses in your life that can increase your grieving process.

I am learning to adjust to my parent’s divorce, both are remarried with new families. I still don’t know where I fit in sometimes. I am trying to find a new normal. My parent’s divorce was one of the hardest things that I have gone through, and them getting remarried was just as hard. It has been 11 years since my parent’s divorced, and I am just at a place in my life that I can process it all. I always desired that my parents would get back together, but now they are both remarried; I have had to face those terms. But today, I choose to surrender my grief to Jesus Christ and allow Him to make all things right in my life. It is not what I wanted nor planned, but God does promise to work all things out for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).


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