A common misconception is that divorce is easier on families with adult children than it is on families with younger children still at home. After all, adult children aren’t at the mercy of inconvenient custody schedules, or fights about what’s allowed at one house or the other when it comes to homework, bedtimes, manners, cleanliness, screen time, or food choices. They don’t have to live under the same roof with stepparents or stepsiblings they may not like, or with parents on the brink of divorce having hushed conversations (or loud arguments) just down the hall.
The thinking goes like this: Having launched their own lives, adult children are safely out of the fray. This is, in fact, why many parents wait until their children leave the house before splitting up.
But divorce is often just as hard on adult children—and what makes it even harder is the assumption that they aren’t affected. The result is that their needs aren’t given appropriate attention—not just by the parents, but also by the adult children themselves.
By that I mean, you may believe that your parents are better off divorced, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing a loss, no matter how on board with the divorce you are. You may have had ideas about celebrating milestones in your own future family with your family of origin intact, and now those holidays and milestones will look different. Perhaps you’ve also lost the home that you grew up in, the place where the majority of your life’s memories reside. And because you’re an adult, your parents may rely on you for emotional support or share information they wouldn’t have if the divorce had happened when you were younger, leaving you lacking a safe parent-child boundary you had growing up—and still should have as an adult.
When parents’ new partners enter the scene, things get even more complicated. Whereas most parents are aware that younger kids need time and care to adjust to new people in their lives, most parents expect adult children to do so with ease. What parents often don’t consider is that their adult children are still adjusting to the losses from the divorce and that they might have complex feelings about the presence of these new partners. For one, they might feel resentful that they have to share their parent with a whole new family. In your case, your dad now has more adult children (and grandchildren) involved in his life, which might compete with the time he spends with you and your sibling (and your future children, if you choose to have any). There may also someday be a financial element. Some of his resources could go to a new family that would have gone exclusively to you and your sibling and your families. This new setup might ultimately affect your inheritance as well. And you might have some feelings about that.