When we think about the children of divorce we often think of younger children. These are the ones over whom we launch custody battles and who need parenting arrangements organised for them. But it’s not just younger parents getting divorced. Older people who get divorced also have children. Those children are adults – the adult children of divorce.
ACODS. It’s an acronym that sounds like your referring to some kind of insect. But it’s a real organisation, dealing with real problems. Adult Children of Divorce – a.k.a. ACODS. These adult children of divorce tend to be the forgotten ones.
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Adult Children of Divorce: It Doesn’t Hurt So Good
Being an adult in this situation doesn’t mean that there is any less hurt, sadness or confusion. It might just look a bit different. Adult children generally are developmentally less impacted by divorce, but may have to deal with tricky situations that younger children don’t or from which are purposefully shielded.
For ACOD Craig, the sense of loss was overwhelming. “I’ve been surprised by how upset I’ve been, because at 28 you would assume you’d be past it and because I know that the divorce is the right thing for my parents. But it feels as though it’s not just they who are separating, but us as a family. All that togetherness that I’ve taken for granted for nearly three decades has disappeared. It’s very upsetting.”
It’s not as if people always see it coming. “I looked at my parents’ marriage idealistically. They seemed to get on well and I had a great childhood,” says Russell Hawkins, 26. “When they split up 18 months ago, it was as if my whole world suddenly had a big crack in it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you’re a child you adapt to things, whereas for 26 years I’d grown up with my parents’ relationship as a constant and a rock. It’s been a massive shock.”
Even for those adult children who have grown up in a home where they knew that their parents fought, didn’t spend much time together or didn’t seem to love one another, a divorce is still a big thing. ACOD Justin said, “My parents were never happy so their divorce was somewhat expected, but it felt weird to spend holidays in two homes after they split and my mom needed more help with household chores.”
Gray Divorce is On the Rise
The reason for this new group of people in society, Adult Children of Divorce, exists is because gray divorce is on the rise. The number of over-60s choosing to end their marriages has increased by more than a third in the space of a decade. There has been a noticeable rise in couples parting after 40 or even 50 years together.
Many of the so-called “silver splitters” were prompted by husbands taking up with other, often younger, women. “Empty-nest syndrome” and early retirement are also cited as triggers after people realise that the extra time they have together isn’t as blissful as they’d hoped. Women are more empowered than ever to live independently, with their own careers and assets, and are less likely to be dependent on their spouses for retirement. People are living for a lot longer than ever before and so with that time stretched out, some are deciding that they are not going to stay married any longer. The social stigma of divorce has also decreased and it’s not uncommon for people now to be on their third or fourth marriages.
Role Reversal for Adult Children of Divorce
One of the hardest things for ACODS to deal with is the reversal of roles. It is rare to come across consensual divorce when people are over 50, with many cases involving one of them having an affair or deciding the leave the marriage suddenly. The spouse who is left behind often leans heavily on their adult children. The balance tends to shift, and thus the fallout of an older divorce can shift disproportionately on to the children.
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Lee Borden, a divorce mediator, finds that older people who go through divorce are often so desperate for help, reassurance and validation that they lose all sense of appropriate boundaries. He recalls one of his clients and his wife coming into the office. “When I met them, there was a third person standing there – a young man in his mid-20s. ‘This is my lawyer,’ the wife said. ‘Ted is our son,’ my client said. I said a quiet prayer for both of them, and especially for Ted. His discomfort was obvious.”
What to Do If You’re A Child Of Divorce
While the example of the lawyer son is an extreme one, it’s not always far from the average reality of an ACOD. It’s actually quite important for adult children to firmly set boundaries for their parents. Healthy boundaries are good. They help both parties of the relationship.
Be sympathetic and supportive, but if you’re not wanting to take sides then make that very clear from the outset. Showing your support will help you and help your parents are you all adjust to these enormous changes.
Tell someone how you feel. It’s certainly good for you to express your emotions about the divorce to your parents. Kate Scharff, a psychotherapist and divorce mediator says, “Most teens and adults whose parents divorce feel some combination of anger, guilt and betrayal. Even if you’re technically a grown-up, you need information, empathy and reassurance from your parents. You also need freedom to express your whole range of feelings ― including anger ― without being made to feel guilty, asked to choose sides or being enlisted as a go-between.”
Being quiet about how you feel is not helpful in the process of grieving. As well as having a parent listen to you, it’s even better to have friend who can share the burden with you. It doesn’t need to be someone who has ‘all the answers’, they just need to care, listen and acknowledge your pain.
Give yourself time. Your world has been rocked, it’s okay to feel like you’re on shaky ground.
You might need counseling – and that’s okay. So, we know that it’s not you that’s getting divorced, but seeing a therapist can be very good for looking after your mental health. This might be particularly pertinent if you discover that your mother of father is not the person you thought they were. It’s only natural that you might feel betrayed and now are overwhelmed as you reframe your relationship in light of that discovery.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane, we know that divorce is often a difficult and stressful time. We aim to settle divorce matters as compassionately as possible.
For a free, 10-minute phone consultation with one of our thoughtful family lawyers, please contact us today.