You may not be a child when your parents call time on their marriage, but it doesn’t make their divorce any easier, says Jessica Martin.
A couple of weeks ago, my friend Lily* and I started talking about our parents’ divorces. Specifically, we were discussing which was worse: your folks breaking up when you’re young (me), or when you’re in your 20s (Lily). After much debate, we came to the conclusion that, while both scenarios are full of negatives, and neither situation is particularly desirable, Lily’s experience accentuated all the different challenges an adult child is faced with.
According to Professor Bryan Rodgers, an expert from the Australian National University in Canberra who specialises in family relationships and divorce, the long-term ramifications of divorce experienced by young children and adult children are actually quite similar. Both groups are more likely to become heavy drinkers, have issues within their own intimate relationships and experience higher rates of depression.
Parents divorce can force you to choose sides
The major differences are experienced in the short term. Adult kids are expected to provide their parents with support after the break-up, because they’re adults themselves. They’re also, then, more likely to become stuck in the middle of feuding parents, and face a choice about taking sides that could potentially segregate the family further.
Lily knows this scenario all too well. She was 25 when her mum and dad announced they were divorcing. As well as having to deal with the shock of the situation, she found herself playing the role of counsellor. “Mum came to me for advice and support in the early stages and I really couldn’t handle it; I needed some support myself! I found out some quite intimate details (surrounding the reason for the divorce] in terms of your loyalties.
Put in the effort to give equal time and attention to both of them, even if one is suffering a little more than the other. This will reinforce that you’re not involved in the drama but want to sustain relationships with both of them as individuals,”
Parents divorce may cause an adult child to question notions of commitment
Another difficulty adult children of divorce are more likely to face is the eruption of their ideologies surrounding marriage. “A parent’s marital breakdown may cause an adult child to question notions of commitment or how to make a relationship work,” says Cribb.
This was an issue that really struck me when talking with Lily. My mum and dad divorced when I was eight years old, so I hadn’t yet had the chance to form any of my own beliefs about long-term commitment. I’ve now known them much longer apart than I ever did together. Lily, on the other hand, had spent her entire life as a child of committed parents, and says that when they split up, her sense of stability, as well as her core values and morals surrounding marriage, were shaken. “They were together for 30 years, the epitome of commitment, and then here they were breaking up,” she says.