Apr 15, 2013
How Parents’ Divorce Impacts Children’s Futures
Yesterday we received shocking news of the suicide of my daughter’s 18 year old friend. As we were grieving, our attention turned to how impossible it is to imagine the grief of her parents. We were aware of how much they loved her and how closely they worked together to monitor and guide her through her difficulties. They obviously loved each other and their daughter dearly.
The transition from child to adult is clearly a time of tremendous challenge. As I contemplated the topic of this week’s blog, I began considering how the young adults whose parent’s don’t work closely together and are consumed with their personal divorce challenges, intensify their children’s challenges during this transition period.
To gain more insight into this concern, I sought advice from the best expert I know. Jo Leonard, has counseled and coached many young adults who are struggling to find their way in life. Here are her responses to my questions:
Can you provide us with examples, from among the teens and young adults you counsel, where they have adjusted or abandoned their academic and career pursuits as a result of their parent’s divorce?
Over the course of 11 years I have worked with many, many young adults who have abandoned something of importance during or after their parent’s divorce:
- Feeling the need to ‘look after’ a parent, post-divorce, has given rise to decisions that have limited their career choices after college.
- Wondering what the financial situation is during the college search, has left them second-guessing their goals, despite having worked really hard through 10 years of school.
- Absorbing what I like to call “Negative Parent Karma” has mixed with normal teenage and young adult development difficulties (think hormones), and produced a demotivated college-bound kid, a directionless college grad, even a miserably employed 20-something, who simply can’t navigate the realities of the real world.
Dad hired us to work with his son, “John” on his college planning. The relationship lasted about 3 months, 9 months less than our normal coaching agreement. The reason for the failure was that John was in the middle of the tug of war between his feuding parents. Having experienced first-hand how long a divorce can take (my parents fought for a total of 37 years, mostly about money and me – ridiculous), I am hyper-vigilant when I coach young adults whose parents are in the middle of a divorce. John’s voice was rarely heard, and I don’t think he was ever given the floor to express himself clearly. Eventually, when it seemed apparent that neither parent was willing to compromise, the relationship ended, and John experienced yet another negative impact of his parent’s divorce. We had only just begun to get to know him and what he felt was the right college and major for him.
Is there a different outcome when parents engage in a “nasty” divorce vs. an “amicable” divorce?
This may sound odd to you, but it’s true: kids who go through a “nasty” divorce, and are personally, mentally, and spiritually affected by it, are often drawn to careers that resonate with their own experience. For example, Jeanne came to me wanting to be a psychotherapist, with a specialty in adolescent addictions. Tom pursued a career in advocacy down in Washington, with a clear focus on Father’s Rights because he felt so strongly that he didn’t get enough time with his Dad growing up. Jo Leonard launched a foundation that works with foster teens who are aging out of the system and struggle with all kinds of issues. Why? Because I was a “very difficult” teenager! Is this a good outcome? I’ll leave you to decide that.
I believe that all parents start with the intention of having an “amicable” divorce, saving the kids from the fallout, and protecting the ones they love the most from long term effects. But it’s rare that I see a young adult who says, “Oh my Mom and Dad get along well. They’re friends and it’s cool.” I recommend parents work much, much harder to make that happen. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Communication Intelligence (CQ) are now more important than IQ in our workforce. Kids who have spent those precious developmental years learning how to hold back their emotions and keep silent, lack CQ. Kids who have seen relationships fail and friendships lost, lack EQ. And young adults who aren’t confident solving problems, can’t build and retain relationships, and react negatively to training and feedback, won’t last long in a real world that demands those attributes.
What special advice can you give parents to help them lower the impact of their divorce on their child’s academic and career pursuits?
The best solution is to work together to create a “COLLEGE AND CAREER COOPERATION CONTRACT,” including the following terms:
- We have the same view on private vs. public education.
- We will have a fund available to pay for college applications, college visits, etc.
- We agree that we are going to finance our kid’s college education 100%.
- We are open to the idea of our kid taking out loans where possible.
- We are/are not going to allow him to travel beyond the home-state for college.
- We are/are not open to overseas study programs.
- We will take her to college, together, in the same car, and drop her off feeling confident and connected.
- We are committed to work together, as a team, to support him through the first couple of years of college.
- When he needs a new suit for an internship interview, he will feel confident asking one or both parents, without feeling torn.
- When she brings friends home for spring break, she will never hear one parent complaining about the other.
Jo Leonard, President and Founder of Jo Leonard, LLC- “Partners in College & Career Navigation” brings together over 40 years of experience in corporate, non-for profit and academic environments. Her team of career and college coaches is expert in the education, inspiration and training of young adults who are seeking guidance in order to make important college and career decisions. www.Joleonard.com
If you have questions or concerns about divorce in Doylestown, Newtown, Plymouth Meeting, King of Prussia, Bucks County, Montgomery County, or Chester County, please contact Alpha Center for Divorce Mediation at 1800-310-9085 and let our divorce mediators help you.