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Question of the week: How long does it take a child to recover from the divorce of their parents?

 
 

52086622 - sad 7 years boy child looking out the window. rainy day

The answer to this question can get complicated. Many divorcing parents think their children will get over the divorce fairly quickly. But what parents need to realize is while the adult life might go on and they will find a new partner, the children will never find another parent. The two parents will always be their parents.

Most research shows that for adults it takes most people more than two years to regain their equilibrium and move on with their lives after the divorce.

There are a lot of variables that come into play when answering this question about how long it takes kids to recover from the divorce.

A few of the variables for kids recovering their parent’s divorce

  • Developmental age
  • Chronological age of child at the time of the divorce
  • Parents – are they cooperative, warring, indifferent?
  • Support system around the divorcing family
  • Support system available for the children
  • Visitation schedules
  • The introduction of a parent’s new love

One kid’s story

Some children are able to move forward within a few years while other children will take up to ten years to find a sense of normalcy. For my own son it did take the full ten-year time span for him to realize his dad and I would never get back together. He was in second grade when his dad left. When he was getting ready to enter his senior year of high school he came to me one day and said, “I finally realized that dad is never coming back home again. You guys will never get back together will you?”

What one researcher says

Judith Wallerstein, who studied children of divorce for twenty-five years, says, “Children who were able to draw support from school, sports team, parents, stepparents, grandparent, teacher or their own inner strengths, interests, and talents did better than those who could not muster such resources.” (The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce, a 25 Year Landmark Study, page299 www.hypderionbooks.com)

Some adult children of divorce will tell you they have never recovered from the divorce of their parents. “We have learned that five and even ten years after divorce, some children and adolescents refuse to accept the divorce as a permanent state of affairs. They continue to hope, consciously or unconsciously, that the marriage will be restored, finding omens of reconciliation even in a harmless handshake or a simple friendly nod.”  (Second Changes,  Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee page 293, Ticknor & Fields, New York)

Recovering from divorce takes a long time

From all my research and observations a decent time frame for children to be healed and find a true sense of normalcy would be ten years. It will take most of their growing up years to

  • Accept the concept of divorce and their parents no longer living as one unit
  • Figure out where they belong
  • Process their own loneliness
  • Identify the flood of emotions they will feel during the divorce
  • Accept the fact that one or both parents will bring a new love into the picture

Keep in mind that during the ten years they are growing up themselves. They still have to go to school; make friends; develop talents and skills and learn life living skills during this time. Ten years is really a fairly short time in one’s life to accept and process the devastation of the original birth family.

 

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8 thoughts on “Question of the week: How long does it take a child to recover from the divorce of their parents?

  1. What about older children? My daughters were 20 (and in college 800 miles from home) and 16 when their mother left and took them with her. What I understand now, eight years out, is that their mother accomplished their estrangement through deft use of the techniques of parental alienation. I have had no contact for the past seven years.

    • Jay, every situation is different. Sounds like your kids have extenuating circumstances. I can’t answer your question but I’d encourage you to keep praying for your children. Also you might read some of Judith Wallerstein’s books. Her book that I mentioned, “The Unexpectedly Legacy” is an excellent resource. I’m sorry about your situation. If you have their addresses, I’d encourage you to send cards on their birthdays, Christmas and other special days. Don’t expect anything in return. Just reach out and pray that someday they will choose to contact you.

  2. Pingback: How Long Does it Take for a Child to Recover From the Divorce of Their Parents? - A Father's Walk

    • Lily, a lot depends on your child’s personality and how you parent them. I hesitate to say “good points” and “benefits” but I prefer to say kids can grow from the experience of their parents divorcing. Kids can learn to be independent; how to set goals for themselves; how to have empathy for others who are hurting; how NOT to treat someone. The list is endless of the things kids can learn from the divorce. Kids can even learn how to express their feelings appropriately so they don’t hurt others when upset. There are many adults walking around today who don’t know what they are feeling or how to express those feelings appropriately. While I never wanted a divorce and fought it all the way, my kids are doing well as adults. They both have successful careers, are married and are compassionate parents. I hope this encourages you. Linda

  3. I’m autistic, and I still can’t seem to get past this. It happened over 15 years ago, and my mind still randomly craves to see “my parents waiting for me” at the end of my destination, wherever it is I’m going. Or, I’ll randomly play out ideas in my mind of how I can see them both near the same time. I was 14 when the tragedy occurred. This year, I’m 30. One parent is still blown away by it. The other takes it to the other extreme of “quit hallucinating, quit fantasizing about the impossible” when I bring things up.

    It’s hard for me. Looking for some kind of help. Tips to move forward are appreciated. I want to be happy for both of them. It’s easier for me to be happy for one over the other, because one didn’t want the disunity. To be clear, I still love both of them so much. I’m just able to be closer to one than the other, obviously. What makes it worse is that when I crave to do an activity one-on-one that I used to do all of the time with the one I’m distant from, the distant one blows me off in favor of pleasing their new spouse. The other parent, I can call any time of day and they will be right at my doorstep.

    That cliché “it’s not your fault” is still hard for me to digest, because I was handed a printed letter to give to my other parent and I was told, “give it to your … AFTER I’ve started my car.” I handed it to the other parent, and I was promised by the leaver that “life is going to get much better.” That was a fat lie. I trusted them when they said that. Rather, chaos ensued. I still want to see them back together!!!!! Is that abnormal? I think I’m traumatized from being the one that handed the letter to the other parent!!! I feel like I stopped growing after the divorce. It’s taken a toll on me. Help, please. I need genuine, sincere help.

    It gets crazier, though: AFTER THE DIVORCE, my parents started doing stuff together again WITH ME!! TOGETHER, US THREE! These were some very happy times. Then, the year of remarrying to new spouses came and that ended it all… Please, come home, parent that left. I want to play games with you. I want to laugh at stupid jokes together. I want the three of us to watch movies and eat out for dinner. One of my stepparents is difficult to get along with, and the other one is extremely two-faced (my autism inhibited my ability to discern that for so long) and operates with a dark agenda. “Oh I want you two to spend time together” then isolates my parent and gives them a bad time for spending time with me.

    I hope I can get the assistance I need. Please remember, I’m autistic. I want to be able to move forward. I can’t seem to let go of the life I once had, though. I hate change. Absolutely hate it.

    • Al, I am so sorry you have been treated this way. That was unfair of one parent to ask you to transmit the note to the other parent. You were a kid and that parent did not treat you kind at all. When people ask us how they should approach a divorce with their children we tell them it should be done together. The parents should be in charge and should have already worked through issues with each other. Parents should NEVER involve a child in the process. It is the parent’s responsibility to take care of their children, not create guilt and additional trauma for their child. Actually, that was the coward’s way of handling a divorce. I’m sorry you had to be involved but you didn’t know.

      Most kids of adults struggle with the “it’s not your fault” issue. So you are not alone and your autism has nothing to do with struggling with the fault issue. Almost every child wonders if they had just done something different, the divorce would not have happened. Do you know that one little boy who was running his car into the wall was told by his dad to stop and then in the next few moments the kids were told about the divorce? The little boy thought it was the divorce was his fault because he ran his little car into the wall. As an adult, he still struggled with this issue.

      Your comments about after the divorce all of you spending time together is exactly why I tell divorced parents not to do that, especially for holidays and birthdays. It sends the wrong message to the children. Then each parent remarries and the children are left fending for themselves in a new family unit. More than likely there was no transition for you. Again not fair to you. Do you know it takes about seven years for blending families to blend? It takes time and helps from each parent and stepparent.

      I would encourage you to get personal counseling. DC4K is for elementary-age kids. I wish you would have had access to DC4K when you were younger.

      Again, I am so sorry for all the pain you have experienced. I wish your parents would have been handled things differently with you. But they didn’t so now you need to work through things yourself. The best way to do that would be through personal counseling.

      I realize I haven’t solved your problems or probably haven’t even helped much. Continue to move forward and find help as you transition into life without the help of either parent. The divorce happened a long time ago; your parents have moved forward and now it’s time for you to do so. You are not alone as many adult kids of divorce still struggle. It is something you have to learn to deal with as well as hundreds of other adult kids of divorce have to do the same. There is a good book called, “Between Two Worlds,” by Elizabeth Marquardt.

      Elizabeth is an adult child of divorce and she talks about her parent’s divorce in the book. This would be a good book for you. It can be ordered on Amazon.com

      Warmest regards Al,
      Linda Jacobs
      DC4K

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