I recently had a client interview with the adult child of divorced parents. In the course of our discussion about her upcoming divorce, she commented about her anxiety issues, tracing her anxiety onset to the time of her own parents’ divorce when she was eighteen years old.
My client was candid. She said that when her parents filed for divorce, both treated her as an adult, making no attempt to shield her from the rather ugly divorce dynamics taking place. She, of course, loved both of her parents and initially wanted to support both of them. Soon, however, she just felt trapped between two warring parents. Both parents shared way too much information with her about the other parent’s past and present shortcomings. She became emotionally overloaded and overwhelmed. In addition to coping with her own emotional difficulties with the divorce, she felt buried in the needs of parents too immersed in their own problems to see the toxic effect on their newly minted “adult” child.
Some adult children of divorcing parents believe the divorce of their older parents can feel more devastating than if it had taken place when they were young children. Instead of being shielded from the emotional fallout of the divorce, adult children often find themselves reluctantly cast in a more active role in their parents’ divorce. Adult children may be viewed as peers, friends, counselor or therapist, mediator, or even a ready shoulder to cry on. This is unfair to adult children. It is inappropriate for you to take on the role of guiding either or both of your parents through their divorce, whether you are willing to do so or not.
First, upon learning about the divorce, adult children are often rocked to their emotional core by the break-up of their family unit …. even when they haven’t lived with their parents for fifteen years and have families of their own … and even when the divorce comes as no great surprise. You have to take care of your own reactions to the upheaval in your family life.
Sometimes there are more changes than expected as a result of the divorce. For example, divorcing parents of adult children may distance themselves from their adult daughter or son, believing that the adult child no longer “needs” a dad or a mom in their life. This is rarely true. It can also create painful abandonment issues for the adult child left behind by the divorce. Or a newly divorced and remarried parent may suddenly spend far more time and attention on the new spouse’s children and grandchildren, creating hurt feelings and possible anger toward the remarried parent who seems to have forgotten who his or her “real” family is. Don’t hesitate to get professional help if you are having difficulty adjusting to the new reality of your family.
Part Two of this blog will address some strategies for adult children coping with the divorce and post-divorce lifestyles of their parents. In the meantime, don’t be surprised at the crazy mix of feelings you may experience with the divorce of your parents after you have grown up and moved away from the family. Coping with divorcing parents can be a difficult path to navigate whether you are four years old or forty years old.
The Law Office of Jeanne Coleman focuses its practice on family law matters, including collaborative divorce, social security disability cases, and dependency cases. Call now for a consultation appointment with Jeanne to handle all or a portion of your case. Jeanne has been meeting the family law, dependency and social security disability legal needs of Tampa Bay clients for more than twenty-five years.