Lessons From an Adult Child of Divorce
I love serendipity. And, at least today, it must love me back. Just as I was feeling completely overwhelmed with updating the blog, I received an email from Liz with a request to send a guest post. Once she told me the topic, I was sold.
There is no shortage of information and discussion about the effect of divorce on children. But adult children? Not so much. It’s as though we think they are grown and launched and the split does not (or should not) impact them (Just think of how many couples wait to divorce until the children are gone).
But it does.
Liz shares her experience with us to help provide understanding of what it is like when your parents divorce once you are grown.
Lessons From an Adult Child of Divorce
It was the summer of 2013, I was 28 years old and just starting a new career in marketing – and my parents were in the midst of a divorce. Their marriage of thirty years had been slowly dissolving before my eyes for quite some time, but I still couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
Growing up, I had considered myself lucky to live in a two parent home while watching as my friends’ single mothers struggled to balance work, home, and the rigors of parenting. Now I was just another child of divorce – even though I was no longer an actual child.
To make matters even more difficult, I – like many Millennials – was living at home as I couldn’t afford to make ends meet on my own. Helping my mother move out of her home of 20 years and into a small apartment was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. However, it was nothing compared to watching her fall prey to crippling grief.
I Don’t Know How to Feel
It’s hard to truly explain what it feels like to be caught between two parents on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Dad had been bottling his negative emotions for years, and the divorce had in essence freed him to pursue happiness. Mom had been blind-sided, thinking that they were just experiencing a rough patch. She still loved my father as much as she ever had and the divorce sent her spiraling into depression.
On one hand, I was happy to see my dad smiling again. He was cheerful and full of life – something that had been missing for so long that I had almost forgotten what it looked like. On the other hand, I was trying to keep my mom from losing herself to hopelessness and sorrow.
The swinging emotions were taking their toll on me – and so were the conversations both parents insisted on dragging me into.
Part of You, Part of Me
Dad told me how he’d grown unhappy ten years into their marriage and had essentially been a prisoner to his sense of honor. He refused to abandon his children and my mother – even if her wild emotions and poor decision making made him crazy.
Mom sobbed on my shoulder, bemoaning the fact that my father had never expressed his feelings and had refused to seek marriage counseling on numerous occasions. In her eyes, he was an emotional tight ass and the whole thing was his fault.
There’s a multitude of resources for parents of small children going through a divorce. I’ve read many of them, and the parallels between the feelings of both young and adult children before, during, and after a divorce are numerous.
Attorney Cheri Hobbs reminds parents, “remember that a child is half of each of you and therefore when you disparage the other parent the child then believes that one-half of them is bad or wrong or negative.”
Listening to my parents complain about each other was like being stuck with a hot poker repeatedly. Much like my mom, I can be overbearing and spend money unwisely. Do my friends feel the same way about me that my father feels about my mother? Do they just not say anything?
I’m a lot like my father in many ways – both good and bad – but I definitely bottle my emotions. Does my mother hate me for this?
To hear them tear each other down was to hear them tear parts of me down. And the worst part of it was that I didn’t do anything to stop it from happening.
Stuck in the Middle
I remember taking a stand pretty early, telling both of them to discuss what business they had with each other and leave me out of it. They agreed, but I don’t think it lasted for more than a couple of weeks. They needed me, and I reneged on my own ultimatum.
“There are few needs more compelling than those of our parents. And parents going through divorce are just like other people going through divorce: they are a bundle of need with little or no regard for boundaries or decorum,” says Lee Borden of DivorceInfo.com.
My father is pretty good at not dragging me into the middle of it, but my mother uses me as a go between, even going so far as to CC me in all emails to my dad. It’s absolutely maddening – like being slapped in the face every time I open my inbox.
The Lessons I’ve Learned
There are lessons to be learned here – on both sides – but as I’ve only experienced divorce from this side of the aisle, I’ll advise those who are like me:
- If you have siblings, lean on them. I didn’t speak to my older brother much during the divorce process. I felt like he was so far away from the situation that he wouldn’t be much comfort. I regret that now. He was hurting just as much as I was.
- Tell your parents to leave you out of the fight and stick to it! It will be hard, I know, but your emotional well-being depends on it.
- Encourage your parents to seek counseling. My mother still has a tough time with the end of her marriage, but speaking to a psychiatrist has helped her immensely.
- Get support! Talk to your friends, your siblings, your significant other, a psychiatrist, or others in the same situation you are.
It’s been two years since my parents divorced and a lot of things have changed. It’s the summer of 2015, I’m 30 years old, and I’ve settled into my career in marketing. My dad still lives in my childhood home and is working on renovating it with his girlfriend. My mom has a nice little condo, two dogs, and an active social life. Things aren’t perfect – there are still hiccups, grumbling, and tears from all parties, but it is getting better. Slowly, but surely, things are getting better.
Liz Greene hails from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. She’s a lover of all things geek and is happiest when cuddling with her dogs and catching up on the latest Marvel movies. You can follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.