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

and unpredictability)

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

really are)

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!



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