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Children of Divorce, Including Adults

January 13, 2016

Often when people talk about “children of divorce”, they only have in mind young children and teens who are still living at home with one or the other parent after the separation. But as a Huffington Post series called “When My Parents Split Up” reminds everyone, divorce causes pain and confusion for children, no matter how old they are.

As of January 2016, the series includes first-person narratives of people who were between the ages of four and twenty-eight when their parents separated. Two of the articles are written by women who were twenty-eight at the time their parents divorced. Raquelle says that she “got caught in the middle of a lot of back-and-forth” when her parents separated after forty years of marriage. “It still feels raw, especially during the holidays,” she says. “It’s been two years since finding out and it’s still a struggle but I am trying. I’m navigating new relationships with my family and it feels like a lot of maintaining individual relationships — it’s no longer the ‘unit’ I had.” Liz echoes Raquelle’s feeling of being caught in the middle. She describes her parents’ sharing this news as a “life-altering moment.” Her words to other adults whose parents divorce: “you’re going to feel like the rug has pulled out from under you and the world has turned upside down. You’re going to grieve the loss of your parents [sic] marriage.” She suggests counseling and support groups to deal with the grief.

Kristen learned that her parents were divorcing at the age of twenty-one, only a few years younger than the women above. She said that her age may have made it harder in some ways because “Had I been younger,” she writes, “I don’t believe I would have been put in the middle as much.” She questioned her memories of her childhood, and even though her father moved only a mile away, “it seemed like a different world.” One of the things that Kristen notes is that she feels more aware of what she wants in a spouse, and how important communication is for marriage. Her advice to other adult children of divorce is to distance themselves from their parents’ problems and not end up being confided in by one or the other.

The other three entries so far in the HuffPo series are of children who were young when their parents divorced. Toria, who was four when her parents split up, says that she never knew any other way of being a family. She thinks she may have been confused at first, but in the end just accepted reality as it came to her. In this way, she says, “There was no real sense on my part of change or loss. The world made sense because at that age whatever happens around you is normal and just the way things are supposed to be.” She thinks that one of the impacts of the divorce is that she is not concerned about getting married herself.

When she was six, Meagan’s parents split up, and she remembers how hard they worked to pay attention to their daughters’ needs. When it came to custody, “they really tried to keep it 50/50” and both parents were always present at birthday celebrations. Both of Meagan’s parents remarried, and she describes her family as “fluid and flexible.” Like Toria, though, she acknowledges that one of the consequences of the divorce is, “I don’t value marriage at all. I have no desire to marry and do not see it as something to aspire to.” She says she doubts its permanence, even though her grandparents have been married for over 60 years.

Finally, Alison’s parents divorced when she was eight and she is currently studying to become a marriage and family therapist. “I want to help children and parents have a different experience,” she told HuffPo. She describes a dramatic scene when her mother broke the news to her. “I vividly remember pulling my Mom’s necklace off her neck and screaming at the top of my lungs. My Dad walked in, sobbing uncontrollably.” She said that she became protective of her younger sister and “grew up” faster than other children. Chrun stresses that there are ways to make the separation easier on the children and that communication is crucial.

The advantage of the way Huffington Post presents these narratives in their series is that there is little to no commentary by an editor. The pieces are broken into small sections, and since the section headings are the same for each, it is easy to compare answers. The series gives children affected by divorce a way of sharing their experience, and highlights the consequences of the breakdown of marriage on the whole family.

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