When I preached a few weeks back on divorce, someone came to me after the sermon asking for resources for adult children of divorce. I did not have much to offer as I am unaware of much for that demographic. It is symptomatic of how adultery and divorce remain viewed as an issue only for the couple splitting or traumatized by the infidelity.
The collateral damage of hurt adult children is often not acknowledge.
Younger children–i.e. those involved in custody disputes–are acknowledged. But the adult children seem to be ignored as party to the trauma that comes at a split between two parents later in life.
I am blessed to come from a family where my parents have been married for nearly 40 years and their parents for nearly or over 50 years. So, I do not have first hand experience on these matters.
However, I can imagine some of the issues having friends from divorced situations.
1. My first thought is to encourage grieving for adult children of divorce.
They have experienced a loss as well. Even though it is disenfranchised–i.e. usually unacknowledged–I think that makes it even more important for the adult child of divorce to give themselves permission to weep or be angry over the losses–i.e. loss futures, connections, etc.
2. It can be scary as well.
As part of a generation where divorce in parents is not uncommon, I see a trend towards cohabitation prior to or instead of marriage. My take on this trend is that my generation is afraid of ending up as their parents. They struggle with the institution of marriage to some degree. They want to “be sure.” The cohabitation is billed as a test drive as I have heard it described by those in their twenties or slightly older.
It is incredibly disheartening to make it into your twenties or older to see your parents then decide to end their marriage. Add to that the traumatic discovery of one cheating on the other, it is incredibly disorienting and creates a very real reminder of how hostile or unsafe the world is.
My encouragement to adult children of divorce experiencing this fear is to acknowledge it. The world is scary. We do not control whether or when a partner might decide to implode even a marriage of decades longevity to that point. But…
All relationships require risk. The greater the risk and the greater of the reward often times. As C.S. Lewis famously noted, the only safe place to avoid heartache is to never risk one’s heart in any relationship.
That sounds like hell to me. A place without love.
Remember: Marriage or monogamy was never the issue.
Character was and is.
3. It is alright to still love both parents.
This advice is the sort of advice I have heard geared toward younger children of divorce; yet, I think it is still important for adult children to hear as well. Regardless of the state of marriage, these two individuals will always be the two individuals God used to bring them into the world. To hate one is akin to hating one half of oneself.
But permission may still be needed.
Maybe one of your parents cheated on the other. Perhaps even one left the other for the adultery partner? You do not have to approve of their decisions to love them.
I love my little daughter even when she disobeys me and makes bad choices. That will never change. It is not a matter of performance. She will always be my daughter, and I hope she always lives with the knowledge that such means my love for her remains no matter what.
That said, you may have to set up firm boundaries with your parents to keep yourself healthy not drawn into their destructive drama. I think this may be especially case when one is not taking responsibility for his or her infidelity and the destruction that has wrought.
Good boundaries as an adult child is important even with parents still married. It may be imperative in situations where divorce and/or infidelity has added more pressures on the well-being of the adult child.
In sum, I would first encourage children of divorce to catalog and grieve their losses involved in the dissolution of their parents’ marriage. It is hard to grieve what you are not allowing yourself to see.
Next, I would encourage recognition of the impact the divorce and/or adultery has on their view of a future marriage–or current marriage–for themselves. It is wise not to live in unconscious or unexamined reaction to life’s events.
Finally, I would hope the adult child is able to give themselves permission to love both parents. It is okay to love someone even if he or she is behaving or behaved badly. They will always be your family. Set boundaries as appropriate.