Thursday, December 31, 2009


Adult Children of Divorce
Children Who Are Over 18 When Parents Separate Are Equally Affected
Apr 28, 2007 Victoria Anisman-Reiner
Adult kids of divorce (known as AKODs or ACODs) may be equally or more harmed by the loss of family stability and by parents' poor boundaries than are younger children.
It is commonly accepted that divorce has a developmental impact, and often a serious one, on teenagers and young children. The effect of their parents’ divorce on children who are already considered adults, though, is often dismissed. Adult children of divorce, or ACODs (AKODs, another common acronym, stands for “adult kids of divorce”), are often expected to be an “adult” and support their parents through the pain of separation and divorce. They may also be drawn into their parents’ arguments in ways that younger children might not be.
Statistics and Facts on Divorce
In the U.S.…
approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce
an estimated 40% of adults aged 18-40 come from broken homes (1)
Studies indicate that the most damaging effect of divorce on children arises early in their adult life. Many children of divorce have trouble finding a mate and creating lasting relationships and marriages themselves. While some of these conclusions are contested, they tend to be taken for granted in the popular lexicon. What has not been studied is the long-term impact of divorce on children who were already over 18 years of age at the time their parents separated.
The following arguments are mostly anecdotal. They depend upon the testimonials of men and women whose parents were divorced when they were in their early to late twenties.
“You’re an adult. This doesn’t affect you.”
On the contrary, the separation of parents affects a child even if that “child” is an adult with a home and family of their own.

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Many adult children of divorce report that, even though they never intended to use it, the fact of their parents’ stable “home” was a touchstone they knew they could always return to if they needed.
Becoming the child of a split household requires a rapid change in a person’s world view and the way they perceive themselves. It can shatter a person's self-image as one of the “lucky ones” with an intact family and parents who were and are happy together, and forces a reevaluation of an adult’s perception of their childhood.
In many cases, the separation of parents is accompanied or closely followed by the introduction of new stepparents and stepsiblings. This can be just as unwelcome to adult children as it would be to teenagers and infants – and not living together can make it harder to get to know the new “family.”
How Divorce is Complicated for ACODs
More even than learning to see their parents (and themselves) in a new light, adult children of divorce can be stressed by the demands placed on them by parents. In the trauma of divorce, parents can overstep the healthy boundaries of their children by treating them as supportive friends.
Leaning on an adult child as a confidant, badmouthing the other parent, using the child to carry messages between their parents, or telling the child, “You’re just like your mother/father!” are ultimately all abuses of the parent-child relationship (2), and can be detrimental to the adult child’s own healing and development. Most parents would never consider treating young children in this manner.
Parents who, after a divorce, begin to date may also confide in their children or depend on them for social advice and help. Many ACODs reporting how dismaying and frustrating this kind of conversation with their parents can be.
Help for Adult Children of Divorce
Counseling and psychotherapy can be helpful for adult children during their parents' divorce. There are also online support/discussion groups and websites created by adult kids of divorce, which can give a voice to the feelings and experiences of AKODs.
Related article: Book Review: A Grief Out of Season for the original research on adult kids of divorce.
(1) Jen Abbas,, accessed April 27, 2007
(2) Gillian Rothchild,, accessed April 28, 2007