What Do Kids of Divorce Take into Adulthood with Them?
Remember that your kids are watching and listening to everything you say or do, and they will take those lessons into adulthood with them. If they see your frustrations and anxiety, then so be it – but make sure they see your recovery, too.
I have watched the evolution of the effects of my divorce on my kids over the course of many years. My children were 18 months and six years old when my divorce became final.
Here's What Kids of Divorce Take into Adulthood with ThemThey are now almost 23 and 27 years old. As they have gotten older, I have noticed some things they have brought with them from divorce into their adult lives. Things that I always thought they would grow out of. But instead, they are still front and center.
1. Fear of LossIt appears that it is a prominent fixture in my children’s daily adult lives. I suppose it started with the loss of their father living with them. My daughter was just a baby when he left, and my son was a toddler. Neither of them has memories of him ever living with us as a family. My son only has a vague memory of a baby coming into the home and his father leaving the home. But both my kids do remember the absence of a father in their home because all of their friends had a dad living with them. My son recently told me that he was embarrassed to tell his friends that his parents were divorced and didn’t really speak to each other. I can understand that.
2. Fear of AbandonmentOne single incident actually never left them, and they have both told me how it made them feel. It was a simple miscommunication that resulted in a fearful moment for them. My kids always stayed after school for playtime and homework club. When my daughter was in first grade and my son was in fifth, my ex-husband and I had a miscommunication where each of us thought the other was picking them up from school. By the time 5:30 pm rolled around, and no one had picked them up, they became frightened, and the school finally called me. I was working late, and though my ex-husband worked in the same city as us, he lived 50 miles away. By 5:30 pm, he was at home and eating dinner. When the call came in, I freaked out! I phoned my mother and asked if she could go pick them up because I couldn’t get there as fast as she could. By the time she arrived, they were both shaken. They both had experienced a fear of abandonment that never left them. After that episode, I ensured they knew exactly who was picking them up and at what time. I also bought them cell phones so they could always know that anyone and everyone was just a call away. To this day, they both live their lives with the need to know exactly what will happen at any given moment, no matter the situation. They do not handle uncertainties well at all. And this is a result of the ramifications of divorce on your kids, and the ambiguities that come with it.
3. Fear of Being VulnerableThe second time they experienced this was when I lost my job. I was let go from a position I was certain would I would retire from. It was a nasty situation in which a jealous leader felt threatened by what she perceived as my influence on the CEO. A perception that could not have been further from the truth, but she expressed this fear to me directly when she told me that I had him in the palm of my hand. She felt threatened, and thus her campaign to character assassinate me began. The result was that I was unlawfully fired. My children were 8 and 12 years old when that happened. Suddenly I was out of a job, and they were feeling very vulnerable when we had to really dial down the spending until I could secure a new position. The primary thing I had to ensure was that I could afford the mortgage. The cable was cancelled, lights were always turned off, eating out became non-existent, and spending overall was changed overnight. They saw the enormous stress I was under and knew that I had asked my ex-husband if he could help temporarily by allowing for a bit more child support for the kids. He refused, and they knew it, forever changing their trust in him. To this day, when he says he will help them, they don’t believe him until he has actually delivered on his promise. To his credit, though, he has been a much better supporter to them in their adult lives than he ever was when they were children.
4. Excessive WorryIt goes without saying how stressful divorce is on kids when they are taffy pulled between houses. Because my ex-husband lived over 50 miles away, it was a big deal when they left a toy or schoolbook at my house, and they were already too far to turn around. This usually meant that I drove the forgotten item to them so they wouldn’t stress about it for two days. Even though they are adults now, they still feel that tug and that certain stress. It shows during the holidays and special occasions when they must coordinate their time between “his house” and “her house”. The biggest silver lining in the pandemic was that they did not have to split Christmases between two parents who were 50 miles apart from each other. There were no gatherings then, so they were happily grounded in one home. It made for a far nicer holiday for them. The worries about birthdays and holidays usually start showing a couple of months before the actual date. My daughter, in particular, is the time worrier. She is actually already worrying about what will happen when she gets married because she feels I will be hurt if my ex-husband’s wife (the woman he cheated with and left us for) will be present, and then she worries about how her dad will feel if she doesn’t come. I do understand why she worries about this. I should add that my daughter is nowhere near getting married, but worry she does!
5. Worry About Financial SecurityMoney, money, money! Or rather, the worry about money, money, money! I suppose my children have been raised with hypersensitivity to money. They have always known that I was just one person making just one income. They had a sense of knowing that every dime I made went to providing a life for us. Probably because they heard me say it a million times in exasperation. I am not proud of myself for not shielding them better. They have known what having money feels like, and they have known what not having money feels like. Money equaled security in our household. And they have lived both scenarios. I take full responsibility for their worries in this as well. They worry because they always saw me worrying. I was raised never having to worry about money. One day I was a woman with a husband, and we built a new home and family together. Nothing in my upbringing prepared me for anything but that life. Nothing prepared me for going from a two-income family to a one-income family overnight. And as my children grew, so did their needs, and I found myself always robbing Peter to pay Paul – all while my children watched every move I made. Their entire security was always defined by my actions, and I was well aware of this. Year after year, we faced our fair share of uncertainties as we navigated the uncharted sea of our life together. But what they fail to hold on to is that, even though we struggled, I was still able to make it all work. They lived in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. They each had their own car, went to college, and literally had as good a life as one woman could give them. In the end, I was still able to give all of us the best life I could offer. But the nugget I seemed to have left them with is that to make it, you have to worry your way to success. And that is not a good way to live or think.
6. Stress About Their Ability to Keep GoingThere were plenty of days that I was so stressed out I would blurt out, “God, I hope I make it to my next birthday!” I was letting steam out and just feeling exasperated at the moment. But that simple yet thoughtless statement stayed with them forever, and it caused them stress too. They honestly worried I would not make it to my next birthday when they were little. It was during those days that I was the most tested and the most stressed out. So what is my point in even talking about all of this? As you figure out your way through all of the challenges of single parenthood, I advise you to stop and take note of what you are saying out loud and what vibrations you are putting into your home. Be conscious of your actions and your words. Yes, you are only human, and that is understood. And goodness knows we all need to release tension and feel what it is we are feeling. Overwhelmed is the word that comes to mind. But remember that it’s not just you who is feeling overwhelmed. It trickles down to your children, and it can show itself in their adult lives, as I see in my kids now. If I could dial it all back, I would hit the reset button. I may not be able to shield them from everything that happened on our journey, but I definitely would be much more conscious in general.
Make Sure Your Kids See Your RecoveryBefore you say something, show something, or do something, always remember there are little eyes watching and little ears listening to everything you do, and they are taking notes that will become part of their own life’s journal. Always remember to show self-kindness and understanding because they will learn that self-care is important too. If they see your frustrations and anxiety, then so be it. But make sure they see your recovery, too. It is a huge responsibility to be a parent. It is a monumental responsibility to be a single parent. Stop and think about a situation you are in before vibrating out your stress or verbalizing your anxiety. Remember who is in your orbit and how much they rely on your stability and confidence. It’s not always easy. But I have faith in you. You are an amazing strong single mom! You got this!
Karen Czuleger Strgacich has been divorced for 20 years. She has raised 2 children single-handedly and successfully put them through all phases of life, including college, while having a career as a Sales Director for a large city tourism board. Karen has started her next chapter as a Certified Life Coach, helping women navigate the uncharted waters of divorce, career challenges, and life being a single mother. In doing so, she teaches women to be the best they can be. www.karenscoaching.org