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Apr 27, 2016BY: Roxane Polak
IN: Children and Parenting Issues, Emotions and the Family Specialist

Divorce and Adult Children: It Can Still Hurt

Tom and Alice waited until their last child was in her twenties before deciding that it was time to divorce.  They joined the growing trend of couples who divorce after a lengthy marriage. Unfortunately, the children did not take the news as calmly as Alice and Tom had anticipated. Their eldest refused to talk to his father, the middle child refused to see her mother, and the youngest changed her last name. While the travails of Tom and Alice represent a compilation of the experiences of several divorcing couples, the sad truth is that such outcomes are not rare. Given this reality, what can divorcing couples do?

Many people wait to divorce until the children are grown based on the mistaken belief that the children will not be affected by the divorce once they are in their twenties or thirties.  Although older children may not need their parents as much either emotionally or financially, they do still feel the impact –in some cases, even more so than younger, more adaptable children. In an April 21, 2016 New York Times article, Never Too Old to Hurt From Parents’ Divorce, author Jane Gordon Julien speaks of the difficulties older children have when they learn that their long-married parents are divorcing.

Adult children often feel anger, confusion, and pain, although they may express these feelings differently from younger children. In late adolescence and early adulthood, children continue to form significant peer relationships.  As a result of the divorce, adult children might question the security of marriage in general and their judgment in particular. They might also question their ability to determine if a relationship is a good one or whether it could last; they might even wonder if any relationship could endure.  Many adult children fail to perceive the severity of their parent’s marital problems and are thus unprepared to hear that the marriage is ending.

Old sibling rivalries may re-emerge and cause children to take sides. If one sibling maintains a relationship with a parent who is perceived to be at fault, resentment and conflict between the siblings might result.  Alliances can be unwittingly fostered by parents who believe that there is no harm done by engaging adult children in the details of the break-up and the intricacies of the divorce negotiations. Some parents use their children as confidants to ease their own pain. The children themselves may harbor unexpressed, and possibly embarrassing, fears about future stepparents, the effect of divorce on important family occasions, and even concerns regarding possible changes in their expectations about inheritances.

None of these difficulties is inevitable.

With proper assistance during the divorce process, couples can diminish or, hopefully, entirely eliminate the potential for friction and a breakdown in communications.  In Collaborative Divorce, experts help the couple navigate through the process, providing help in determining how to inform the children, how to anticipate the children’s reactions and how to facilitate communications in order to ease the transition into a post-divorce family.

With the help of an experienced collaborative-divorce specialist, the couple can more easily anticipate the difficulties and pain that the children will experience – enabling the couple to deal more effectively with the issues and to achieve a healthy post-divorce relationship with children of all ages.

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