Divorce Impact on Adult Children – Part Four

This concludes a series by guest writer Mary Murphy, LICSW. Mary is researching the impact of divorce on adult children — and it seems there is an impact, and possibly a negative impact, even when the children are no longer “children”. Being a legal adult does not mean the divorce of your parents has no impact. Part Four of Mary’s post follows, as well as an opportunity to participate in her research.

 A New Family: Late life parental Divorce and its Impact on Adult Children

A previous article in this series discussed painful assumptions that are often woven into the language of divorce and adult children.  Parents who divorce after decades of marriage may assume their adult children will come out of the family break up unscathed. After all:  They should understand; they are adults, too. The term adult child is itself paradoxical.

 So while there are many painful assumptions associated with adult children whose parents divorce, a healing response is one that will move toward the emotional pain and make room for compassionate conversation.  A compassionate conversation creates an understanding and loving space for reactions of adult children to be expressed. “Few parents are prepared for the depth and intensity of their children’s reaction.  For a variety of reasons, they tend to overestimate the adult side of their children” (Fintushel & Hillard, 1991, p. 278-279).

Divorce is complicated.  It marks a unique ending and beginning for each individual member of the family.  No one is immune from confusion, anger, fear, sadness, and more.  “But adult children must be allowed to mourn, to rage, to refuse to understand.  Only by fully experiencing their feelings will they be able to understand, to accept, to move beyond” (Fintushel & Hillard, 1991, 280).  This may seem like a daunting interaction for parents to have with their adult children, just as they are also in their own state of grief.

Research shows that over time, most adult children of divorce adapt and make the transition to the new family structure. Integrating the loss of the first family as the adult children knew it, means being able to mourn. In place of assumptions make room for grieving.

Resilience finds fertile ground where there is compassion, courage, and connection (Brown, 2007).  It offers hope for each family member that they will come through the emotional quagmire of the impact of divorce.  And on the other side, adult children, while they may never stop missing the family they grew up with, often come out of the divorce with new skills for adapting to life.  A compassionate and courageous achievement.


Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York, NY: Gotham Books

Fintushel, N. & Hillard, N. (1991). A grief out of season.  Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co.

 Mary Murphy is a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) in the State of Washington and a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology in the American School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University/Seattle. Her website is here: www.mary-murphy.com.  As partial fulfillment of her doctoral degree, she is researching the impact of late-life parental divorce on adult children, ages 23 years and older at the time of parental divorce. A link to the online survey is below:

Part One to Mary’s series is here, Part Two is here, and Part Three is here.