A recent New York Times article about this phenomenon describes its effects on the adult children of these couples. Here are some excerpts (in bold) from “Never Too Old to Hurt From Parental Divorce,” by Jane Gordon Julien.
1. First the stats, then the inevitable study:
The effect on adult children is undocumented, said Susan L. Brown, a sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, whose 2012 study with I-Fen Lin, “The Gray Divorce Revolution,” established that the divorce rate among people 50 and older had doubled in the previous 20 years.
2. Most therapists treat adult children of divorce the way they treat those who are grieving from any other loss, or who are depressed or anxious. Without a wealth of recent research on gray divorce and its impact, gathering information is left to the therapists.
When I read this part, I thought of what it was like to be a young adult—age 21—not long after my mother died and my 53-year-old father started dating. That didn’t feel so odd, but when he finally re-married at 56, things got weird for me, especially as his new wife was so dramatically different from my mother. I believe that made me grieve her loss all over again.
3. Dr. Hughes is part of a small but growing field of therapists working with lawyers to encourage divorcing parents to consider the needs of adult children. Her practice, part of Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County, “is very active on this topic,” she said. “I think we’re in denial as a nation as to how adult children are affected by divorce.”
It seems that therapists are often on the front lines of social and cultural shifts; they will often discover patterns in their clients who share the same experience, patterns that reflect what’s going on in the larger culture.
For instance, I remember when I first read Claudia Black’s book, It’ll Never Happen to Me! in 1987. It describes what she’d discovered in her work as a therapist: that her clients who grew up in alcoholic homes had psychological/emotional issues specific to that experience. Seems obvious now, of course, though I don’t believe it was at the time.
For more on the effects of gray divorce on adult children, click here: