I was recently asked if I had any blog posts or advice for adult children of divorced parents. I realized I didn’t. As I started to mull over the question, I had to think about the forty years of pain of being a child of two selfish people who constantly kept their divorce the number one focus of all of our contact. Those reflections became the basis for this message to adult children of divorced parents or divorcing parents.
So here is the first thing you need to know. It is not your fault. These two people chose each other long before you were ever on the scene. At some point in the distant past before you were born, they dated, courted, and fell in love. At one point, they decided to get married and/or have children. You may be an accidental result of their coming together in love or lust. They intended to love each other, but may not have intended to have children and raise a family. It is important to realize that now as an adult. You are here due to their actions as adults.
If you were created on purpose, then it must feel doubly harsh that they are splitting up and leaving you without your home base. It is still not your fault. I believe that when two adults fall out of love, either because they are disillusioned, felt abandoned, or were betrayed by their partner's actions, the resulting anger, pain, sadness, and frustration can be so consuming that it becomes all they can focus on.
Their divorce is not your fault, no matter what you believed as a child or they said or implied. Divorce is an adult decision and they are the adults who made it.
As their child, you will likely feel all of the pain that they do. The difference is that none of it was made by you and realistically you could not and cannot do anything to make their pain go away. Your first inclination as a child might have been to act out your own anger or sadness at what happened, or it might have been to bury everything you felt deep inside because it was too painful to deal with.
You need to know that it is normal for children to feel hurt, angry, sad, upset, and scared when their parents divorce. As children we enter life with a basic desire and need to be loved and cherished and kept safe by our parents. It is normal to feel sad and angry and scared when our home and lifestyle become threatened when we learn that our parents are splitting up. It is normal to not want to get involved and not want to be asked which parent we want to live with or who is right or take sides. If your parents did that, it was completely unfair and selfish for your parents to put you in that position.
No matter how old you are you do not have to take sides. In fact as an adult, I would suggest you not take sides in the breakdown of a relationship you are not in. You may have a relationship with both of your parents, but you are not actually a part of the relationship they have with each other. Since you are now an adult, you at least have the opportunity to think logically about what happened between your parents. What is most important for you to consider is what you want each of the relationships you have with your parents to be like going forward.
I urge you to tell each of your parents that you love them both and refuse to get in the middle of their arguments. Do find a good counselor to assist you in dealing with your own pain and hurt from what has happened. I find that the worst thing most people do is stuff all of their hurt and anger down and never get it out. Or worse, they take their hurt and anger out on everyone around them. They become bleeding wounds and everyone is expected to love them and make up for the love they missed as children. If you choose that route you will only keep yourself from being able to fully love in the future. You may also either end up very alone or in relationships that are just as twisted and hurtful as your parent’s relationship.
Next, set your boundaries. You can and should let each of them know exactly what you are willing to hear about their divorce. Understand they should not be involving you anyway. They are both adults and they should also be seeking out a wise advisor, counselor, or therapist with whom they can talk about and process their own pain, guilt, anger, hurt. That should never be your job. One technique I used throughout the years was this: If we were talking on the phone and the subject of the other parent came up in a disparaging way, I would say please stop. That I did not want to discuss that topic. If they continued, I would warn them that I was hanging up if they weren’t going to stop. If one more disparaging word was said, I hung up on them. You have to set your boundaries. It is not your job to make them feel better.
The good news about being an adult is that you get to set your boundaries and you are free to create a life with love in your own friends, partners, lovers, spouses, and children. If your parents want to sit in their pain then you make it clear that they are not welcome to bring that pain into your space. That is tough love. Understand that if you find a good counselor or therapist or coach, you can heal your own pain.
When you get to a point where you feel some serenity about your past, then I urge you to forgive your parents, in person or in your heart, for being the fallible people they are. Do let them know you love them and accept them for who they are. If you can, let them know the ways they have shaped you in healthy ways and your gratitude for good values or gifts they have given you in this life. If they can hear that, then your relationship can fully heal. If they are so wounded or selfish then you simply have to accept that this is their problem and take steps to keep the toxicity out of your life.
You didn’t deserve to have this pain come into your life, but it did. Working through the pain and finding the grace to accept what you can’t change about them, accepting your own pain, and forgiving them and being grateful for any good that came from that union, will bring you at least to a state of peace. The reason I became a divorce attorney is to protect children like you and I were. May you find some solace and comfort in these words. Commit yourself to creating a better life than what they were able to give you. You are lovable and worthy of their love, whether or not you feel you received it.
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