ADULT CHILDREN OF DIVORCE
Divorce is a life-wrenching experience for both adults
and children. The adults at least have some control over
their lives and the ability to understand what really
happened. After all, it’s their divorce. But the kids get
dragged, kicking and screaming sometimes, through the worst
loss of their young lives.
Usually they find ways to cope. But the very behaviors
and attitudes they develop to help them survive can later
make their lives unmanageable. Diane Fassel, in her book
Growing Up Divorced (Pocket Books, 1991), describes the
Not all adult children of divorce have all these
symptoms. Some specialize in one or two as survival
1. an overdeveloped sense of responsibility (for
others, usually not for oneself)
2. attempts to control everything (to stave off chaos
3. fear of conflict (fear of losing control of anger)
4. taking sides (because they often find their identity
through playing a role, rather than from a sense of who they
5. fear of abandonment (physical and/or emotional)
6. difficulty setting limits and personal boundaries
(often let others take advantage of them–and then feel used)
7. feelings of helplessness (stemming from
uncertainties about how to respond to situations)
8. obsessive concern with economic security
9. difficulty trusting others
10. unrealistic expectations about marriage
As if this were not enough, many children of divorce are
exposed to violence, addiction, abuse and poor communication
between their parents prior to the divorce. Since children
learn what they live with, they often grow up to repeat these
behaviors as adults. It’s all they know about how to do
There is no doubt at all that divorce is a major crisis in the life of a family and all members are affected. Nevertheless, there are things that parents can do to minimize the negative effects on their kids.
1. Be aware of the temptation to take sides and take steps to avert it. Let the kids know that no one is at fault. It’s just a change the parents are making because they’re not happy together anymore.
2. Make sure the kids know this is not about them and that there’s nothing they can do to change it.
3. Reassure them that the major aspects of their lives will continue without major change, and then make it true. (If you can’t make it true then don’t promise it.)
4. Remind them that although Mom and Dad are leaving their marriage, neither of them are leaving the kids. And then make sure that is true!