Parents’ divorce affects adult children too


I remember sitting in my second grade class when my teacher asked us, “Which of you have parents that are still married?”

I was a little confused by the question; I thought everyone’s parents were together. However, much to my surprise many of my friends’ hands remained down.

It was then that almost with a hint of pride, I raised my hand.

Years later the idea of divorce is no longer a foreign concept.

Many of my friends came from homes with parents that were split up and now years later it’s my parents that are getting divorced.

And while my younger brother and I are no longer children, we’ve both been impacted quite greatly.

Experiencing my parents divorce as an adult is somewhat of a balancing act, in the sense that I’m no longer just their daughter but also whom my parents are confiding in more and more.

Considering I moved out of my parents home a couple years ago and I’m 22 years old, many people I’ve spoken to somewhat assume that their divorce doesn’t affect me.

Quite often I get met with a response like the following,

“Well you know it’s not your problem.”

“Stay strong for your parents, it’s about them not you.”

“It’s just one of those things.”

I wouldn’t say that there were things I expected to hear, but my feelings are certainly more complicated than other people seem to think.

To see if what I was feeling was normal, I interviewed a University of Toronto associate professor Michael Saini.

Saini, who is a social work and law professor, provided me with some answers and he described five feelings that are most common amongst adult children of divorce:

  1. Feeling that their childhood was fake.
  2. Loyalty binds as both parents turn to them for comfort and support.
  3. Anxiety about their own relationships (additional emphasis placed on the level of authenticity of their adult relationship to minimize the risk of their own relationship breaking down.
  4. Feelings of isolation and lack of adequate supports.
  5. Role boundary problems as they may not be ready to provide the support to their parents.

While I haven’t experienced every one of these feelings, a majority of them are certainly accurate depictions of my current situation. The one that resounded most strongly with me was the problem with role boundaries.

“A common misconception of grown children going through a divorce is that they are old enough not to be impacted now that they are out of the family home and living their own lives.  In reality, adult children of divorce often get thrown into the drama of their parents divorce as the parents look towards the adult children for comfort and support.”

Adult children of divorce aren’t protected like they would have been if they were still young. As adults we’re seen as capable of handling the situation and more often than not, we are confided in.

“The notion that they can ‘deal with it’ places a lot more pressure on adult children of divorce, as there are less supports around in the community for adult children . . . They are more likely to feel alone and troubled by their parents divorce, without having somebody to talk with,” said Saini. “So adult children can be left with shattered dreams and depressed about feeling that their childhood was fake, which can be exacerbated by not feeling they have the supports to talk about it.”

Divorce drastically changes the family structure. There is a role reversal, as we become our parents’ confidants changing the relationship to that of friendship.

That change of relationship is normal and can be healthy, as long as there are some boundaries in place. After all they’re still our parents, and some things will never change.

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