Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Adult Child's Struggle During Parental Divorce

Hey everyone! Another long overdue blog post, but this one isn't necessarily a life update (that will come in the new year). I've decided to do something a little out of character for me; I've decided to "air my dirty laundry" on my blog. I normally try to stay away from public drama. I'm also not looking to start drama by any means, however I think this is a very important topic that needs discussing, and very few people go through what I am going through so there is not a lot of information on the topic.

So here it goes: today we are talking about divorce and how it affects your adult children.
*Please note that I am in no way a psychologist, only an adult child in a situation where my parents have split up, and these opinions are mine and mine alone.

Most people imagine divorce being a terrible, messy thing-- and in some cases it can be. I've also seen it work out favorably, with some couples even getting back together after time has passed or becoming great friends. However, when it doesn't go smoothly, the people involved can obviously get hurt.

It is also common for people to "think of the children" when they hear about a couple get divorced, and I do agree that it can be awful for children. This is in no way meant to discount the suffering that small children can go through when their parents split up, because I have seen first hand how negatively it can effect small children who just want their parents to be together. Instead, it is meant to bring light to a similar issue: adult children.

I can only speak for myself, however, as of late I have felt that it is possibly worse for a child do be a full grown adult when their parents split, and here are some reasons why:


1. The child is treated like just any other adult, even though it is their parents that are having issues. 

Because the child is an adult, the family members in the situation feel that they are old enough to handle all of the drama. Nothing is left out-- no subjects are left untouched because the topics that previously would have been "too adult" for sharing. However, no child who loves both of their parents ever wants to hear one or the other made out to be the bad guy. It is especially difficult when the parents treat their child as their "friend," because no, the child does not want to offer you advice about how to deal with the situation. You are the parent, and you are supposed to protect your child. That is your one and only job. You may be going through a lot, but it is not all about you. There are other people whose lives have been turned upside down, too.


2. A child born of two people whose families are feuding is the only person that can be completely in the middle of everything. 

It seems as though whenever you speak to one side of the family, they bad mouth the other side (and vice versa), and the entire time you're thinking "But I love all of them, why does everyone have to bad mouth each other? Why won't they let me love everyone?" Similarly, it seems as though this is a popular subject of conversation because it is the most relevant topic. However, there is only so much that can be said. Even if you have calmly asked these people to respectfully leave this topic alone during conversation, they still seem to bring it up, and because you are on both sides of things, you get to hear both sides. There is no rest.


3. The adult child, no matter what age, is expected to take sides. 

Possibly the most important point on this topic is the fact that most children are expected to have one opinion or the other. This is particularly harmful to adult children in the situation because any decent parent will do their best to shield their small children from the anger and hurt that happens behind closed doors, but for some reason some parents in this situation will expect their adult children to take sides. Even if you ask for people not to tell you things so that you can claim innocence, they still tell you, prefacing it with "I know you don't want to hear it, but..." No-- stop right there. You are exactly right. I don't want to hear it and have expressed that to you, so please do not continue. Yet they do-- every time. Even if you bring it up because you feel like you have an opinion to express, it is not fair for you to express yours, because you are confiding in them as someone that you care about and want only for someone to listen. In a divorce situation, you can no longer have casual conversation about one person or the other with either side of the family. Even if all of your life you were able to go to any number of people when you were having an issue with one parent or the other, and they were there to calmly listen and offer advice. Now you cannot do that, and when you forget and try, you immediately regret it.

You know those shirts that people wear that say something like "Talk to me about Jesus"? I really would like to have one made that says "DON'T talk to me about my parents or their divorce." I would need about eight of them and I would only wear them when I go back to Michigan.


4. A child who has grown up and moved away from their family is not present for all of the issues, but everyone feels the need to update them on the situation that they are directly in the middle of even though there is nothing they can do about the situation but stress out.

I will tell you that I personally, 2,400 miles away, can do nothing to help with the situation, especially because I do not want to get in the middle or take sides. The only thing that hearing about the situation does is stress me out. In fact, hearing about the situation and being unable to avoid it is one reason why I will probably not be returning to Michigan as often as I would like, because I spend 10-14 days stressing out instead of enjoying my time back home with my loved ones. "Are you with your dad?" or "Have you seen your mom yet?" are unacceptable questions. You do not get to ask them and you do not get to know. I am not the middle man, and I will not be judged by you for spending time with someone I care about even if you hate their guts and want to set them on fire.


5. The child runs out of confidants that they can speak to about the situation. 

If a child has always been extremely close to their family instead of having very many friends, the child can no longer talk to their family members about what is going on because instead of calmly listening to how the person is feeling, the family members instead express negative opinions towards the other parties. When you have very few friends who know your family or are close enough to the situation to sympathize/empathize, you realize that the few friends who do understand are probably sick of hearing you talk about it all of the time. So what do you do? Pay hundreds to talk to a professional? Or keep it bottled up inside? Continue to talk about it to your friends until they no longer call you because they know what's coming when they answer the phone and they've had enough?


6. The child has a right to express their opinion about their parents' new significant others, but if you like one and not the other, you are taking sides. 

A child only wants what is best for their parents-- and vice versa-- so why is it that parents are allowed to express their opinions about their child's choice in partner but it is frowned upon for the child expresses an opinion about their parent's choice in partner? What's more is that not all people are equal. Just because you like one person's new partner does not mean that you approve of them being in a relationship. Just because you dislike the other person's new partner does not mean that you disapprove of them being in a relationship. You're not picking sides; you're not wishing happiness on one person and not the other. You just plain like or dislike someone. It is really that simple.


7. If you never expected your parents to get divorced and they do, you can accept that. If you always expected your parents to get divorced and they finally do, you can be relieved... But it somehow never crossed your mind that you would eventually get step parents and step siblings.

And you're somehow supposed to be okay with that. Especially when you don't live nearby and you have very few opportunities to spend time with your parents' new partners and their new partners' children, you are basically slapped with all of these new people that you hardly know and you are expected to like them. Maybe they're not so bad, but if you grew up with a set number of siblings and never expected to gain any more until your siblings got married, it really takes you off guard. So now your parents are divorced, they are fighting, both sides of your family are fighting as well, you get new future step parents that you are expected to approve of (and maybe you do, and that's fine, but maybe you don't approve and that's somehow not okay) but you now also have new step siblings. I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing, it blows my mind. You're getting new siblings. They're basically adults. They have lives that you've never been a part of. It's like getting new friends and getting to know them, but there is no wiggle room. You cannot end the relationship if they ever upset you. You have to play nice. You will be married into another family and they will come with aunts and uncles and grandparents and those people will expect you to like them and spend time with them, too, and that is just too much to handle. If you already have a full family, you don't want it. You don't want any more.

And finally


8. Once one parent has decided that because you are not on their side, you are wrong. You lose that person, which is exactly what you were trying to prevent. 

It seems as though even staying neutral counts as taking sides, and if that upsets one parent or the other, you've lost the game. You're now in the situation you've been trying so hard to prevent, and in some cases there can be very angry exchanges about it and you leave not only feeling like you're being victimized just for caring about everyone, but also like your parent cares more about hating the other parent than they care about you and your feelings.

There it is, friends. Again, this is by no means meant to upset anyone or discount the feelings that other people have during a divorce. I just wanted to shed light on how adults can feel when their parents split up, as I actually know very very few people who have experienced their parents' divorce while they are in adulthood.

I want everyone to know that just because you're an adult doesn't mean it doesn't hurt to see your parents split up, even if you always expected that it would happen. My only wish is that this piece may help someone in the long run, regardless of what roll they play in a similar situation. Maybe some day I will be able to write a follow up piece about how it all worked out and everyone lived happily ever after. One can only hope.

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