I’ve come to envy young children going through a divorce. Everyone worries about them. They are sent to psychologists to get the help they need, but the adult child’s grief isn’t taken as seriously. Many of our parents stayed together because we’d be more mature once we headed off to college, walked down the aisle, or had our first baby.
Parents expect us to shrug off their split, as if the breakup of our family should no longer concern us because pieces of our adult life are in place. Even I felt I was overreacting. I’m an adult, I figured. I should be able to handle this. (Brook Lea Foster, who wrote the AARP Magazine article, “The Way We Were”)
Brook was talking about the difficulty of coming to terms with her parents divorce even though it happened when she was an adult.
Adult “Children” of Divorce Hurt Too
Even though you are an adult, it doesn’t mean that you don’t still feel immense pain. You realize, “things will never be the same.” As Brook said in the article:
“My life suddenly seemed a series of “lasts” —a final Christmas, an end to eggs together at the breakfast table. I’d never again find my parents standing side by side on the porch, waving to me as I pulled into the driveway.”
There are a lot of “lasts” adult children of divorce must go through in letting go of the past. And there are a lot of “firsts” to adjust to as you visit your parents one-by-one in different locations and often different states. There are also the “firsts” to adjust to as you meet new people they are each dating. This adjustment doesn’t necessarily come easy just because you are supposed to “be adult about it.”
Wrong Notions About Adult Children
In another article posted in the Washingtonian Magazine, Brook had additional thoughts to say on this subject. She wrote,
“When a younger couple gets a divorce, they worry about how it will affect the children. My Mom told me that’s partly why she and Dad stayed together for so long. Did it mean that what I saw as a perfect childhood was a lie?
“There’s a notion that an adult child won’t hurt as much as a youngster. People think a 26-year-old isn’t as likely to be affected by her parents’ breakup. That she’ll understand. It’s not true. Understanding what your parents are going through is even worse. I began obsessing about their growing old alone. I pictured them in separate houses without someone to make them tea if they had the flu. They could come live with me, but I’d have to choose one.
“My parents and I reversed roles. I became the worried one. And I was the one who wanted to make sure they had a good weekend, or that the birthday present I had sent was perfect. I told a friend after the holidays that my family felt dead to me. ‘I think you’re exaggerating,’ my friend said. But I wasn’t. I was in mourning. My family as I knew it was dying.”
As you can surmise, it’s not as easy for many adult children to adjust to their parents’ divorces even though many people may think they should. That’s why we want to lead you to some additional thoughts on this subject, hoping that they will help those who are dealing with this issue.
Adult Children of Divorce – Healing the Pain Resources:
This first resource is a series of radio interviews conducted by the ministry of Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey. In these radio broadcasts Dennis interviewed Jen Abbas and Elizabeth Marquardt.
We encourage you to either listen to, or read the transcripts for each of 5 radio broadcasts. They are titled, Surviving the Aftermath of Divorce, The Emotional Hurdles of Living Through a Divorce; The Sleeper Effect of Divorce; Forgiving Our Parents, and Approaching Marriage) please click onto the links provided below:
• ADULT CHILDREN OF DIVORCE: Healing Pain that Lives On – Days 1-3
• ADULT CHILDREN OF DIVORCE: Healing Pain that Lives On – Days 4-5
You will find below another 3-part series of Family Life Today broadcasts. They deal with the subject of adult children and how their parents’ divorce has affected their lives. Dennis Rainey is interviewing Bill and Jesse Butterworth in these programs. We invite you to either listen to or read the transcripts for:
Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions put together this article.
If you can share additional tips to help others in this area of marriage, please “Join the Discussion” below.
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Filed under: Separation and Divorce
77 responses to “Adult Children of Divorce – Healing the Pain”
I just found this site. I am 43 and my parents officially divorced when I was 16. My dad left our home when I was in 8th grade. I think I was 13.
Honestly, I am just wishing that the brokenness will just stop. I just saw my father recently and although we had a really good visit I just feel so tired of my brother, my mother, and my father all just being broken by something that happened in the early 90’s. Every relationship in this family doesn’t operate in unity. It operates in one adult child trying to make sense of why there is so much of the children informing the parents about the other parent and the other child…
Just. So. Tired. It’s so broken. I believe wholeheartedly the only one who can fix my brokenness is the Lord Jesus. I just wish he would fix it now. I have waited so long for him and I see how time and distance (3 different states) hinders communication and healing.
I don’t know if this is more of a comment or a question. What can be done to restore years of suffering relationships? How can I have individual relationships with my mom, my dad, and my brother? How can it not be all about one parent to another or all about my relationship with my Mom when I don’t get a lot of phone calls and only communicate through email and bday cards…
So hard. Just wish the Lord to do as he wills but it’s so beyond anything I can do. It will always hurt until HE wipes away all the pain. God bless you for this site. I will check out some of the articles. Thank you.
Lornel, My heart breaks for you as I read your comment. I also that there is even more pain behind all of this that you weren’t able to put into words. So sad for you. My parents also broke apart their marriage and I (and my 3 siblings) got caught up in that tangled mess. I believe to this day that my younger brother (3 years younger) died an early death because of the repercussions of all that happened. (He started abusing alcohol and drugs at a young age.) So I know just how heartbreaking and stressful this can be.
Unfortunately, this “brokenness” isn’t likely to stop. In marriage we are called to “cleave together.” So, think about it. When you are cleaved together “as one” it only stands to reason that there is a lot of tearing and ripping involved when you separate two halves. Plus, the damage can be devastating. And from what I perceive, it doesn’t appear that your parents really want to get to a healing point–they just want to continue the toxicity of it all causing more and more devastation and separation. But God, our Great Physician, can bring healing. But it is not usually an easy healing–at least not easy in the beginning.
I’ve been praying about what to say here. I sense that the Lord wants me to encourage you not to park on the “if onlys.” I learned this a long time ago. I watched my siblings make horrible choices as they clung to their “if onlys” and made bad decisions. It negatively tainted every aspect of their lives. Dragging the past around and piling up more and more on top of it can be a miserable existence and very burdensome. I know that all too well. I had quite a few horrible things happen to me earlier in life, and parental problems that threatened to change me and my world in negative ways for the rest of my life. But eventually I came to the end of my rope (that I was hanging on to for dear life) and looked up to Jesus.
I wanted off that miserable “if only” rope that was entangling me and choking me. Eventually, God in His mercy, helped me break free. As I leaned into Him, asking for wisdom as to what I could do to prevent the crash I was headed for, God let me know this would be no easy journey. But He also let me know that even in the midst of the storms that kept happening around me, He was in the eye of the storm and could lead me to a peaceful place. And He has. It’s not that at times memories and “if onlys” don’t try to plague me again; and it’s not that everyone around me is fully functional. But I don’t have to let any of that grab onto me. I can refuse to participate as God gives me the strength.
You can’t control everyone around you, but you can walk away from the chaos they try to involve you in, and refuse to participate. You had a broken past, but you don’t have to have a broken future. I’m going to recommend a couple of things for you that I encourage you to do. First, read the following article, “If Only, If Only, If Only.” Here’s the Link: https://proverbs31.org/read/devotions/full-post/2017/10/17/if-only-if-only-if-only-. Jesus can redeem all the bad that has happened to us in the past. But we can’t park on the past. Our “if only’s” will only take us down a darker path. We need to refuse to participate in this futile imagination. Refuse it as many times as it takes; don’t go there. Look to Jesus to show you how He will use your past to bring redemption in the future.
Here’s the scripture that God has used repeatedly to help me not to park my focus upon my past: “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) What this told me is that it’s not that I can erase my past, but I am not to park upon it. I grieved it, and now I am to put it behind me and strain forward to what lies ahead. My focus is not to be upon my past. That will only drain me of the strength I need to press onto God’s goal for me–the mission God has ordained that I accomplish. It will take effort and will be a strain at times. And it is. But it is SO worth it! God wants to take your past and redeem it in ways that can accomplish so much good. But we have to participate with Him in this.
Also, I recommend you prayerfully read the book, Boundaries, written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Here’s a link to the book: Boundaries. If your family doesn’t want to get out of that toxic, intertwined mess of the past–do it on your own (with Jesus leading the way). Set up healthy boundaries and don’t participate in their unhealthy conversations and actions. You can hopefully have a relationship with them other ways, but don’t get caught up in the he/she web they keep throwing at you.
Also, tomorrow (July 19) I’m posting a Marriage Insight on this same issue of not allowing yourself to be haunted by the if only’s. I encourage you to read it and glean the info you can use. I hope that Insight and all of this will help to put you on a healthier path as you apply what God shows you.
I can tell you firsthand that you CAN detach yourself from your past. God wants you to, and He will help you to as you do what it takes to cut those injuring ties. I hope you will and pray God gives you the strength to do so. “May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5) “May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.” (Jude 1:2)