When Your Parents Divorce After You're All Grown Up

8 years ago

The news that Al and Tipper Gore were separating didn't shock me. Divorce happens. It did break my heart, but not necessarily for the couple themselves. My heart broke for their four adult children.

A month and a half ago, my parents separated. I am 29 years old. They have been married for 30 years. My world is upside down.



Credit: Small red heart via Shutterstock

One of the CNN articles about the Gores' split talks about the U.S. Census stats and cites things like longer lives and a growing acceptability of divorce as reasons for divorce later in life.

Like the Gores, my parents had made it past all of the normal breaking up and off points in a marriage. My parents married young but weathered through the end of the honeymoon phase, the seven-year itch and the eventual emptying of their nest. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a big gala affair complete with fancy clothes and a vow renewal. Their marriage wasn't perfect, and they dealt with some serious issues over the years. Still, I felt that we had made it to a safe place.

I'm struggling to make sense of this, and I have many worries and concerns.

Worry, of course, isn't only for adults who live through a divorce. Children going through their parents' divorce can have different reactions dependent upon their age. Some people claim its harder for adults. Other say that the turmoil placed on children is far more than what adults have to endure. I've come to the conclusion that child or adult, it sucks.

PastaQueen, whose parents divorced after 27 years of marriage, also wonders about the similarities and differences.

I don’t know what it is like for little kids who’s (sic) parents divorce. I can guess and sympathize, but I’m not sure if it is easier or harder to be an adult when it happens. I certainly didn’t blame myself, and I didn’t have to chose (sic) between living at Mommy’s or Daddy’s. Instead, I was left to wonder, “If this was going to happen, shouldn’t it have happened ... sooner? Like, in the era of hair bands?”

Adults going through the divorce of their parents don't deal with child custody issues. I don't feel as though any of this is my fault. I'm not harboring that guilt. I'm busy with my own life and dealing with my own family and marriage issues, whether those are highs or lows. Perhaps that's one reason why it's so hard for adults dealing with the breakdown of their parents' marriage to wrap their minds around the concept.

Marti's Musings, whose parents divorced after 34 years of marriage, brings up a good point.

Your parents’ marriage is a part of the foundation of your life. How they feel about each other means something to your own well-being, for better or worse. How they relate, love, interact and take care of each other plays a big part in every relationship you’ll have, which is probably why everyone needs therapy.

I was just bragging about the fact that my parents were still together. I felt proud that my parents were still married when so many of my friends' parents were not. They'd made it through the valley and were ascending to the golden mountaintop that every married couple wants to achieve. The big 5-0! I haven't totally based my married relationship on their model, but I knew that I wanted to overcome challenges as they had over the years. Now that's all a wash.

Miss H, who endured her parents divorce while she was in college, brings up what is likely the most difficult point for children experiencing their parents' "late life" divorce: the lack of a protective bubble.

My parents have since divorced (believe me parents divorcing when you are an adult is no easier than having them divorce when you are a child ... especially when there is 'another woman' involved. Because you are an adult you are not shielded form any of the sordid little secrets as you would have been if you were a child; you are not protected from the screaming matches or the crying or the utter despair, the hurt and the depression.  You are put in the middle of it all and made to take sides. My little brother was 6 years younger than me. He was protected. It sent me into a deep depression. I just wish my Dad would have had the guts to end it all sooner)

I want to place my hands over my ears and scream, "La la la, I can't hear you!" I grew up understanding that adults disagree and argue. It's another thing to suddenly be the sounding board for all my father's faults. Whatever they are, he is my dad and I love him. Similarly, whatever my mom's faults are, she is my mom and I love her. Being thrust into the middle of this is like being in a nightmare from which I cannot wake. It's exhausting and scary and generally unsettling.

I did find some encouragement in an article by Brooke Lea Foster, which is an adaptation of the book she wrote on the same topic, The Way They Were.

Nothing tested me more in my adult life than my parents' divorce. I can say that now without feeling embarrassed or weak. For a long time, that's all I felt. I was 26 years old at the time. I had moved out of my childhood home to attend college several years before. I had a great job, close friends, a relationship -— all of the things that should make you feel rooted. Yet when my parents announced they were separating, I felt as if the world had collapsed in on me.

Maybe that doesn't sound all that encouraging. It is, because she later explains that she's "over" her parents' divorce and has come to terms with the whole shebang. She also spoke of anger, sadness and confusion. Perhaps that means hope exists for the rest of us -- that our parents' divorces won't ruin us for all time. Of course, I am still holding on to the hope that my parents, currently in counseling, will work things out. I feel like I did as a child when they would argue, one threatening to leave or screaming at the other to do so. If I just pretend it's all okay, it will be. Right?

What is most encouraging is the fact that we live now, not before blogs existed. I'm not left feeling like it's just my family that is somehow inherently flawed. I'm not even all that worried that my parents' failure to go the distance will somehow rub off on me, thus dooming my marriage. I am similarly glad that, despite sharing my story here with you, I do not live in the same limelight as any of the Gores. While I can tell my story and seek support from others who have been through similar experiences, they are forced to live their next life chapter in a much more public way. As such, my thoughts and good wishes are with them as they begin this weird journey. Perhaps they could create un-identifying screen names and join the Adult Kids of Divorce (AKOD) forum. I bet they'd have some great insight to share with the rest of us.

Have you gone through your parents' divorce as an adult? Perhaps those who went through divorce as a child and have mastered the "being in the middle" and handling of schedules can encourage those of us trying to make sense of it all.


Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom), from Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land, is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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