Sam divorced Vivian when their children were ages 7, 5, and 3. The courts, recognizing that physical cruelty was a component of the disillusion of the ten-year marriage, awarded the children to Sam to the chagrin of Vivian. Over the next decade, a constant war of custody suites kept the family in a perpetual state of litigation. The children were obviously affected by the turmoil the parents just could not work through. Shuffled from home to home, counselor to counselor, the children dealt with intense emotional duress as they navigated childhood. In so many ways, the children lost years of their lives. Eventually, the last of the suites was settled, and the family moved on with life. Years later, Sam and Vivian’s kids went through a recurrence of the pain inflicted by their parent’s divorce. In and out of counseling sessions, the “adult children” recognized that their painful childhood had created an ongoing malaise.
No one signs up for a divorce
No one steps into a marriage expecting it to fall apart within a few years.
But it happens.
Divorce, it has been said, is like ripping flesh. Unfortunately, divorces are made even more complicated when children are involved. While every child’s experience of divorce is different, the adult children of divorcees tend to share a common set of characteristics and challenges, facets of personality and experience that shape decision making and the “child’s” coloring of the world.
The adult children of divorce – ACODs
In this piece, we look at the adult children of divorce. Perhaps you are reviewing this article because you count yourself among the growing legion of adult children of divorce. If so, take note of this article and see if you can see yourself in some of these descriptions. And, if you recognize some of yourself in this piece, ponder the ways you can continue to address some of the more debilitating issues “ACODs” face as they move deeper into adulthood.
Adult Children of Divorce often wrestle with trust issues. Having endured some unsavory times during the pivotal childhood years, ACODs may have trouble developing healthy/trusting relationships with other adults. At the risk of getting hurt by the significant adults in their lives, ACODs may be quite slow at letting people step into their circle of trust. Often self-reliant, ACODs trust their ability and understanding of the world above everyone else.
Addiction is often among the demons that ACODs face after they emerge from their troubled childhoods. In attempt to fill the emotional and spiritual voids in the soul, ACODs may turn to alcohol and/or drugs for a boost or a release. Obviously, addiction can bring other troubles into the ACOD’s life including trouble at work and dissatisfaction in intimate relationships.
Co-dependency is a concern that ACODs may encounter in adulthood. Having been put in the subconscious position of “caregiver” for their emotionally fragile parent or parents, ACODs, may seem quick to “fix others” or provide care for another at the expense of themselves. This co-dependency phenomena can sometimes lead an ACOD to partner with an addict or an emotionally troubled person who needs to be “babied.” With the co-dependent ACOD and the wounded partner in a “dependency dance,” the ACOD may lose a sense of personal identity.
Resentment of parents can be a facet of the Adult Child of Divorce’s relationship with his or her parents. If the ACOD’s parents had a significantly troubled divorce, the ACOD may continue to resent the loss of time, quality of life, happiness, and the like. Long after the divorce has been finalized, the ACOD may harbor intense resentment toward one or both parents. The resentment, if unchecked by meaningful conversation and/or counseling, can be absolutely debilitating.
A pronounced caregiver role may emerge in the ACOD’s life when his/her parent(s) moves into later life. If the Adult Child of Divorce was a “parentified child” in earlier life, that is, was put in the position of providing emotional support for a wounded parent years before, he/she may feel a continued obligation to care for the parent. This is a terrible situation, but it happens with a good deal of frequency.
Among the ACOD’s saddest struggles, is the fact that he/she has lost seasons of life. Unfortunately, none of us can reclaim days that we lose to anger, sadness, health scares, and the like. Many ACODs recall that they were often in a state of confusion and anxiety as children. It is hard to “claim a childhood” when the formative days that were intended to be inundated with joy and laughter are sullied by the “larger family crisis.” Many ACODs in a reflective space will tell counselors, “I feel like I lost big chunks of my childhood.”
Divorce is tragic and painful. While some divorces are necessary for the health and well-being of all parties, divorce can inflict a lifetime of emotional hardship on those connected to the marital disillusion. Children, while shielded from the potential of further emotional and/or physical abuse among the parties, do carry a lifetime of regret and anxiety triggered by the parting of the parents.
If you are an Adult Child of Divorce, recognize that you are joined by millions of others still trying to wade through the deep emotions that linger in the aftermath of the divorce. Get help if you recognize that old wounds are hurting your present state of mind and current level of functioning. We were created to thrive; this is still possible for you. Believe it!