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how divorce affects older kids


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Hi Everyone,

I am not sure if I am posting this question in the right category? My parents split up when I was 18, in my last year of high school. My oldest brother was in his last year of university and soon to leave the nest for good, my 2nd oldest brother was in 2nd or 3rd year university, and my younger sister and brother were in grades 9 and 11 respectively. I have asked my younger and second older brother 3what their memories are of that period and neither seem to recall much. I on the other hand found it very very stressful and painful since it threw my last year of high school into a tailspin. I heard a podcast the other day which featured kids whose parents divorced, now as adults, talking about how divorce affected them. I usually read or assume divorce is more traumatic on young kids, but for me at 18, it really messed me up, and has continued to mess me up into adult life-trust issue, relationship, neediness, dependency etc. I don't buy what my sibling claim since my oldest brother divorced and remarried his first wife, my second brother divorced after 6 months, and my younger sibling have never been married and they are both in the 40's. I am married(7 years) with two kids, and I sometime believe I have transcended or escaped my past, but other times I don't...


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Guest ASchwartz

Hi Pat Paul,

There is no doubt that divorce has a major impact on older kids. Some studies a read several years ago said that it has a greater impact on older than younger kids. I think its an unnecessary discussion because it is a disaster for both categories.

People make the awful mistake of believing that teenagers, especially older teens (18 and up) are more independent and less needy and therefore less affected by divorce. In point of fact, teens continue to need their parents and parental guidance for a long time, especially today when the world is more complex.

So, yes, older children and young adults are deeply impacted by divorce.

Having said this let me hasten to add that everyone is different and I would bet that there are some people who are less impacted by divorce than others. However, that is always true. Now, with that caution in mind, I will repeat that divorce affects older teens and young adults.

How can a college student concentrate knowing his parents are going through this terrible process???

Allan :)

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I can relate, sure!

I was 18 when my mother announced she was leaving my father, and my response was "It's about time". I'd always known how unhappy she was.

My brother was two years younger than I and I know it really affected him, as he was always the coddled youngest sibling. I know he felt abandoned, and last I heard he still resents it!

The biggest effect it had on me was that I had no guidance and no home base. I was cut adrift and had nowhere to live or keep my things. A lot of young people are cherished and parents worry about them and want them to come back home for holidays and suchlike. I didn't have that. I ended up joining the army, which was not really what I wanted to do. I wanted to go to school, but I didn't know how to do it, and I had no advice! It's amazing that something terrible didn't befall me, but I did the best I knew how, and I'm grateful I had the opportunity to learn how to do something other than flip burgers.

Since I felt cut adrift I returned the favor. I'm not really in contact with any of my family members, and I think if my parents had been happier together and stayed together that I'd have had a more connected life.

But oh well. It happened how it happened and I don't hold it against anyone nor feel sorry for myself, it could have been worse! I'm in my early forties now, though... and a mom, also. I know I went through a long stage of resentment earlier on about the lack of help and guidance.

Besides not getting a good start on adulthood, I don't think the *divorce* affected me per se.

I think whatever problems I had were present long before it, part of heredity and family culture. The divorce was only one small facet on that flawed stone.

The really annoying thing is that I am just like my mom now. Trapped in an unhappy union. But I am staying for my child as long as I can/am allowed to. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, but to the best of my lights I think it'd be worse for my son especially, and worse for me too in many ways if I left.

Edited by JaneE
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Good morning Patpaul,

There's been plenty written about the long term effects of divorce on people, with some studies showing significant effects and others showing none. Before I write the rest of the response, I want to tell you that my intent is not to be hurtful or difficult, I say this out of compassion and because I believe (even if incorrectly) you need to hear it. I want to quote Julian b/c I think he makes a powerful point, and one I’ve thought of several times:

JulainP wrote> Having said all that PatPaul, I cannot help but point out that it seems like you are in desperate search of a specific and external "event' that justifies or explains your struggles. I have a very strong sense that your approach itself guides you toward frustration and away from where the true solutions lie - within yourself and within your specific experiences or "story".

At some point in my therapy for severe PTSD and panic/anxiety, my 8th therapist (we were required to be in therapy all 7 years of graduate school and with a different therapist every 6-9 months, and continue in our post-doc too, which was another 5 years) looked at me in session 5-6, after he had listened carefully to my moaning and droning on about how I was an abandoned child, how I had been a survivor of severe abuse for many years, about how I had lived on the streets for awhile, about what it meant to be a minority who spoke no English in the US, about what it was like to live under a brutal dictatorship.... and how all of this was inhibiting me from stepping forward in life.

He eventually blurted out: "David, look, I know you've had it hard... and frankly, shame on all those people for what they did to you. Shame on them for how they treated you. Shame on them for their cruelty and negligence of your needs!” He stopped and sat silently for about 30 seconds as I quietly gloated in the realization that he was seeing what a terrible lot I had been dealt in life. He then looked at me sternly (after I think he believed his message had sunk in) and said: “David… and shame on you for holding on to all of those pains and using them as an albatross to hold you back. Shame on you for having used them as an excuse or rationale for where you’ve been in the last few years and what you've failed to do for yourself!” I was stunned at the callousness and raw insensitivity—I nearly walked out in anger. Unable to hear more, I shut down in the session, so he stood up, went to his desk and started working on other stuff. I sat there- he sat behind his desk, both of us at what seemed to be an impasse, or nearly 35 minutes. He made no effort to comfort me and wanted me to stew in my own juices. To have done otherwise would have robbed me of one of my most powerful life lessons.

I returned the following session, still smarting from that last blow to my protective shell. He said he would talk when I was ready (seeing that I was still sweating it out and that my ego had hemorrhaged some), went back behind his desk and I stewed for another 15 minutes. I mumbled something, he didn't respond, so I mumbled again and he still didn't respond. I finally said clearly: "Ok, I get it and if I'm going to get past this, I need to do some serious work!" And there began some of my best therapy experiences (and also an exceptional experience in learning how to be a clinician).

Now, 25-30 years later, he is the therapist who taught me the most and from whom I benefited the most. In fact, he is the only one I remember really well.

Patpaul, again, I don’t want to sound insensitive and mean spirited, I want to be supportive and encourage you to look at your part in all of this. At some point, you’ll need to take very active action on your life, especially since in several of your posts you seem to want to address your issues by looking outwardly when all the action is within.

Good luck and I hope this helps,


Edited by David O
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  • 1 month later...

So I know that I'm posting a reply about a month after you all have talked about this, but I think my perspective could be interesting, and perhaps even beneficial.

When I was four years old, my parents got a divorce. It was extremely hard on me, I blamed myself, etc. When I was about eight, they got back together. They refused to marry each other again but claimed that they loved each other; my senior year of high school, they caved in and remarried. Now, they are going through their second divorce - I am 22.

I don't think that it is any easier or harder on me now than it was the first time. I think in some ways, it's easier because I know more of what's going on that led to the divorce and I know that they just cannot be together. However, I'm going through this for the second time. I thought it was supposed to really last this time, ya know?

I watch my ten-year-old sister deal with our parents' separation. She's holding up much better than I did when they divorced the first time. I think that's partially because I refuse to let her think it's her fault or that there's anything she can do to change this; I never got that reassurance. I think it's also partially because we're simply two different people. And people will always react differently.

I don't think that one age group or another deals with divorce better. I honestly believe that you could do study after study about it, and you would get inconsistent results. People deal with trauma differently. That's all there is to it.

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  • 1 month later...

I was about 11 when my parents divorced. a social worker came to talk to us and asked us who we wanted to live with. It did no good because I wasn't given an option I wanted. I had an alcoholic father and a verbally abusive mother. It is not fair what kids have to go through because of thier parents problems. they should have tried to find me a suitable home rather than taking the easy way out. I had to live in a war zone for a good part of my life. My mother decided I was too much like my father and she needed to control me and keep on me all the time. I wasn't the person she claimed I was. It is like going through several years of a brainwashing session where someone else is trying to get through my head who I am. I could never do any thing right according to her and that is just not dealing with reality. I also never told the truth if it wasn't what she wanted me to say,I never did my homework,never did what she told me to do,etc.To this day I don't respect authority. Respect needs to be earned and I don't care if you are a cop,a teacher, or what ever. people want respect when they don't deserve it. At least I came out of it not being a mindless sheep.when you are a kid it seems like no one wants to listen to you.

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