This adult life: being an adult child of divorce

On a sunny, warm beautiful day in June of 2009, sitting outside of our home with my dad my life changed. I went from having both my parents living with me, to my dad telling me he was moving out. To be honest, it really didn’t come as much of a surprise. For a long time now, I witnessed my parents argue, I saw a lack of intimacy between them. Nonetheless, the abruptness and shock of it all left me feeling so many different emotions.

At that time I had literally just come back from spending my first year away at college. I was on the verge of turning 20 years old. I really never thought my parents would actually split. I always had this fantasy that everything would work out. The reality, however, was that both my parents were unhappy. My dad opened up to me and explained how he had felt like their relationship changed once I left the house. That he felt like they were simply roommates instead of husband and wife. Once I took a step back from my personal feelings I could see how this split might actually benefit the both of them. And indeed, it did.

Although it took many, many years for my mom to forgive my dad for leaving her, they both have moved on. My mom has grown tremendously. She’s taught be about how to be strong, she truly is a fighter and to see her continue to grow, even in her 50’s, just makes me appreciate how life never stops teaching us lessons.

And my dad, he has grown as well. From being someone who depended on my mom for almost everything, he has grown into a more independent person. And with all this growth my parents now get along much better than before. They help each other when needed. My dad helps with any handywork that may need to be done (even though he’s not the most handy of men). And my mom, being a paralegal, helps my dad with any legal issues he may encounter.

I couldn’t be prouder of the two of them. But, throughout the years, since that day in 2009, I have gone through my own growth and realizations about my parents’ split. Below are a few of the lessons I have learned from my parents’ divorce as an adult.

1. You can’t personally fix your parent’s relationship 

Even though I was 20 at the time (seemingly an adult) I tirelessly tried to fix my parents’ problems. When my 20th birthday rolled around (literally a month after my dad moved out), I was faced with my first “divorce dilemma”. I was accustomed to celebrating my birthday with both my mom and my dad. Typically it would involve a dinner out with the two of them. So what did I do that year? Just that. Awkward is an understatement. Not only did we all go to dinner together but my dad drove us. So it was two people who seemingly didn’t want to be in the same house together, now stuck in a car together trying relentlessly to keep things sane. I just didn’t know how to handle the change so soon after the fact. I wanted to just keep things the same as much as I could. But it was at that dinner that I realized, things were never going to be the same. My parents were never getting back together. It’s an unexplainable feeling when you stop seeing something you can fix, and start seeing it as something that needs to happen.

2. Seeing your parents as “human” is scary

My parents began to confide in me. Being brutally honest about each other. And it was frightening at first.  The first time you hear your dad cry. It’s shocking. You start to think, “is this the same person who picked me up when I fell?” But by seeing them as human you begin to cultivate a new relationship with them. I was able to see my dad as someone who needed to grow and become more independent and more self-reliant. And I was able to see the resilience that I always knew my mom had, but I was now I got to witness it first-hand. She sold my beloved childhood home and moved into an apartment, had to deal with changing jobs and taking a pay cut, and then after all the struggles, she managed to fight her way through and now has a wonderful job that she loves, a condo she likes (she’s looking for a new place) and finally feels financially secure for the first time since my dad left.

3. You become someone they lean on

I will never forget when my dad came to visit me when I was away in law school just to talk. It was the first time he had truly apologized for leaving. This was about 4 years after he left, and I remember feeling at peace with the whole situation. I hadn’t even realized I was holding on to any resentment. He confided in me, explaining why he left, how necessary it was for his happiness. And it was then that I realized how necessary the divorce was. You depend on your parents to guide you, help you, and teach you for your entire life. One day though in the blink of an eye, you’re the one taking care of them, becoming the parent (in some weird unexpected way). This is when you truly become the adult in all of this.

Now, I have come to be grateful that my parents need me and rely on my help and support. It makes me feel so good to know I can help them after all that each of them has done for me. I am able to help my mom with cooking for her and preparing some of her favorite meals. I help my dad with any papers he receives that he doesn’t understand (his English isn’t the greatest). It’s nice to be able to call my parents and just talk to them, not as a daughter, but as a friend.

4. You arallowed to be upset/hurt/annoyed

Although I was an adult and I “should” move on, the truth was I was sad. I still felt like a child whose parents were splitting up. It didn’t matter how old I was. I was accustomed to both parents being in the house. We had a seemingly normal family. Mom, dad, kid. I wasn’t fine at the time. My mom was sad, and I couldn’t fix it. My dad wasn’t there so I didn’t even see him or talk to him much at the time. I was fortunate enough to have THE greatest grandma, who listened to me vent. Obviously she was biased, being my mom’s mom, she totally had her own opinions on the divorce. But whenever I felt sad, I called her to talk. Not about my parents, but as a way to distract myself from ruminating over my feelings. She would tell me all about her day and her boyfriend at the nursing home. That was my therapy. Divorce hurts children at any age, regardless if they’re 5, or 35.

5. You love your parents, and they love you- no matter what 

I will never say that my parents were perfect- no one’s are. But I will say that through everything that I have been through with them, I do not for a single second second wish they raised me differently. Because the thing is, when things were good, they were fantastic. You have to remember the good times, and know that the bad times will pass. Once I learned to accept that it’s not my fault, I was able to release any and all resentment surrounding the divorce. Life continues to go on. Everything happens for a reason.

Today, I couldn’t be happier with how the past 7 years have turned out. I’ve grown. My parents have grown. Our relationships have evolved and changed for the better. And to witness and acknowledge all that growth is a miracle which brings such happiness and joy to my heart.

Now, I’d love to hear from all of you. Are any of you adult children of divorce? If so, have you experienced any of the above realizations? Please share your thoughts and comments below. I love reading all your feedback and comments. It means a lot that you all continue to come back every week. If you like this post, please share it with your friends and if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the blog and get instant access to every new post!

Have a great week!


A 20-something girl on a journey to find herself with hopes of helping others feel their feelings.