Divorcing with Adult Children: The Unacknowledged Suffering
by Molly Boland
In an April 21, 2016 article in The New York Times, Jane Gordon Julien looked at the effects of divorce on the adult children of divorcées. This is a population that has greatly increased in the past twenty years—the rate of divorce for people fifty and older has doubled—and is often left to cope unaided with the earth-shattering reality that their parents are no longer together. Sadly, there are very few resources available to assist adult children in this grieving process.
Through interviews with adult children of divorce, their parents, and those who assist people in these situations, Julien stresses that the expectations and treatment of adult children in cases of late divorce by parents should take into account the children’s needs. For example, therapists advise that children should be told about the divorce with their siblings and both parents present, if possible. Further, adult children can often be dragged into the divorce by an emotionally distressed parent, because the parent sees the child as an adult or peer; however, this venting or sharing can increase the negative impact on the child from the divorce.
Julien’s interviewees who have experienced their parents’ divorce reveal that even in a well-handled, “good” divorce, fundamental questions can be raised in the adult child’s mind about his/her entire existence. For example, if one parent purports having wanted a divorce for a while, but pushed it off while the kids were young, this can cause the adult child to question the reality of his/her life growing up. Moreover, it can cause doubt about the child’s own ability to have a successful relationship or marriage and whether he/she wants to have children.
The ministry and therapy to adult children of divorcées is increasing as the need is rising, but many people in the United States fail to acknowledge this trauma.
About the author
Currently studying theology at The Catholic University of America, Molly Boland is an intern for the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth at the USCCB.