College Students and Divorce

college student affected by divorceMuch has been written about children and divorce. Divorcing or divorced parents of college-aged students may underestimate how this change in family circumstance affects their offspring. College students are not “immune” from effects of changes within the family unit, parents’ behaviors and expectations, or uncertainty regarding where they belong in their family post divorce. The apprehension surrounding this “new normal” can leave a young adult feeling out of sorts and emotionally drained.

Some considerations of young adults living in two homes include:

Readjusting to childhood homestead

Houses are made of sticks and bricks but what about these young adults living arrangements for the summer? During the divorce, parents might choose to sell the domicile and make other living provisions. This transition from college and then back to two “homes” might create a loyalty bind. These students are of age and not under any obligation to adhere to a parenting time schedule like their younger siblings. This creates an awkward situation for the student whereby he or she must chose where to stay during the summer break. Other divorced families might have chosen to keep the childhood home but repurposed the young adult’s room into one for a younger sibling or into a sewing room or office. Either way, the adjustment is real and can be an uncomfortable one.

Readapting to former and new realities

During the college years, young adults are experiencing individuation, maturation, and independence. This is a foundational time where parental security and support is essential. Family restructuring may create uncertainty with the college-aged student. Parents might expect their college student to babysit without pay during work hours or begin dating thus limiting the young adults ability to earn money for upcoming school year expenses. A parent might remarry or begin dating while the student is at college, which may strain or challenge familial alliances as the relationship develops. Budgets might be tight thus limiting vacation times, and destinations. Hanging out with friends might be more difficult when going between two homes and managing two separate schedules. Family rules and limits might have changed in one or both homes.

Reevaluating their place in the family

As college students move into adulthood, their parents might begin to view them as equals. By doing so, he or she might inadvertently put them in the middle of parental discord. This loosening of boundaries can put adult children in an uncomfortable spot. He or she might be expected to take on the role of confidant, intermediary, messenger, or spy. Some children of divorced parents prefer to be Switzerland and remain neutral regarding parental matters while others give their “two cents worth” whether it was asked for or not. Over sharing irritations or personal information regarding their ex or current spouse or significant others are not healthy parent/adult child conversations.

How Can Parents Help?

  1. Listen carefully to your young adult’s concerns and respond in a manner that is age appropriate.
  2. Prepare college aged students by communicating any changes to promote a smooth school to home transition.
  3. Articulate expectations to reduce overall misunderstandings and clarify concerns.
  4. Maintain boundaries to encourage mutual respect.