When Parents Divorce in Their Children’s Adult Years

iStock_000006933714XSmall(2)This is a follow-up to the 4-part series written earlier by guest writer Mary Murphy, now EdD, as well as LICSW. Mary was researching the impact of divorce on adult children. The earlier posts are found here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part FourA summary of Mary’s research conclusions follows:

When Parents Divorce in Their Children’s Adult Years

As a follow up to earlier articles about the impact of late parental divorce on adult children, I am excited to share the results of my dissertation research.  The study is now closed. A total of 167 volunteer participants completed the anonymous online surveys and demographic questionnaire.  No known previous research studies have been conducted on the impact of late parental divorce on adult children from an ego strengths perspective.  The results show a relationship between ego strengths and impact of divorce on adult children who were age 23 years and older at the time of their parents’ divorce.  The study also suggests additional areas of research in this area.

I’ll begin with some demographic information about the participants.  Out of the total 167 participants, over 85% were female.  Over 83% of the 167 participants reported their parents had been married between 25 and 39 years.  A total of eight (8) reported their parents had been married 40 years or longer.  Ninety-one participants (54.5%) were between 26 and 48 years old at the time of their parents’ divorce.  A total of 17 participants were between the ages of 50 and 59 at the time the survey was completed.

Of the total number of participants in the analysis, 32.9% fell into the severe range for impact based on the measure used. The ranges show 28.7% in the moderate range, 15.6% in the mild range, and 22.8% in the subclinical range.  The measure asked respondents to answer 15 questions.  The Impact of Event Scale (IES) directions state to answer each question as it is true for the past seven (7) days.

It is important to notice that the impact of late parental divorce on adult children remains relevant well into the adult years as is shown in age span of participants. A total of over 60% fell into the severe and moderate ranges combined on the IES.  A number of participants did not meet all of the clearly stated inclusion criteria but invested the time to complete the two measures and demographic questionnaire anyway. Their participation is a testament to enduring feelings about a largely overlooked age group when it comes to parental divorce.

Finally, ego strengths were measured by Psychosocial Inventory of Ego Strengths which is a measure specifically for ego strengths identified by the developmental theory of Erik Erikson.  Two Eriksonian ego strengths, Competence and Love, were shown to have reliable inverse relationship to the impact of divorce on adult children who were 23 years or older at the time of parental divorce.  In other words, the data from the study clearly shows the ego strengths of Competence and Love were not as strong in those whose parents divorced, even while the children were adults.

The research is intended for multiple audiences, including adult children of divorce and parents who divorce after their children reach adulthood.  Ultimately, most adult children are likely to adapt to their parents’ divorce.  The reparative process begins with parents and adult children acknowledging the losses and grieving.  Participating in compassionate conversation between parents and adult children will be a guide in the new family relationships to follow.

Mary Murphy HC guestMary Murphy, EdD, LICSW has a private psychotherapy practice in Seattle, WA. Contact information can be found at www.mary-murphy.com. Her full doctoral dissertation study entitled Parental Divorce: Relationship Between Ego Strengths and Impact of Divorce on Adult Children, which describes areas in which adult children are impacted by parental divorce, is also available at her website.