Updated: Jan 5
Since the hit of COVID-19 there has been a surge in my practice in working with adults aged 18-28 as a Child Specialist and Psychotherapist. According to Hartford Healthcare’s recent census, “The pandemic...affects people ages 18 to 29 more, with 42 percent reporting anxiety and 36 percent depression. The second most-affected age group was people 30 to 39, with 34 percent reporting anxiety and 28 percent depression.” Many of them have uprooted their lives to move back home. Reasons for moving back home include job loss, universities transferring to online format, covid-19 restrictions, or the need to suspend their “gap year” of travel. At a time when many of them are trying to navigate love interests, build careers, and create reliable networks these clients have not only had their lives suspended but they have profoundly regressed. Many have described their experience of being forced to “move back” whilst also having to “move back” into their old roles, schedules, and family traditions. Not only are they going “back and forth” between two homes, but now they are transitioning with significant others and pets. Some have explained that during birthdays and holidays they’ve been expected to follow past schedules. For a significant amount of these clients, the new lives that they have built have allowed them to explore who they are beyond their two-home family under one roof. The impact of all of this would seem that the pandemic has created a long detour in establishing their own independence and securing long-term healthy boundaries.
For the adult children that are in the initial stages of parents restructuring their homes, there is great confusion. This is an age group that is already significantly overlooked and is commonly referred to as the forgotten demographic. In a longitudinal study done by Watterstein et al. (2000) an adult child explains, “It’s sort of a permanent identity, like being adopted or something like that. I guess you might say our parents’ divorce was the formative event in our lives. It explains why I feel the way I do. The divorce is a permanent part of me in some ways I’ll never get over it” (Children of Divorce at page 291). How then are these adult children expected to “get over it” when the pandemic has shackled them “back in it”? It would seem that the role of the child specialist in the case of adult children has never been more valuable. They no longer have a choice and yet where is their voice?
Whether your family is in transition or has been restructured into two homes, here are five things to consider:
1. They are still your children: Although adult children are able to understand much more than minors, it can be tempting for parents to overshare or lean on them. It is important to keep boundaries and to limit their involvement, while maintaining a parent-child relationship.
2. Understand that they have feelings too and will also need support: Many parents assume that older children will not feel torn, guilty, or that the rupture of the marriage is not their fault. Surprisingly, adult children share similar feelings to younger children. The adult children that have had to move back are not only reverting back into old patterns, but they are incredibly flooded and haunted by the “ghosts of their past”. Furthermore, they are typically more skilled at hiding their feelings, which make them a target for being easily forgotten. Try to validate their emotions, and hold space for empathy. 3. Recoupling and family blending does impact adult children: Whether they live at home, have to move back, or temporarily visit. Family restructuring does change their sense of belonging and understanding of home or their family of origin. 4. Relationship repair can be more challenging: Encouraged visits or traditional ways of repair are no longer applicable to this demographic. This can make rebuilding the child-parent relationship much more difficult. Further, adult children feel more responsible to find appropriate solutions, and often take on parenting roles. 5. Your co-parenting relationship is still important: Many parents assume that they will not have to make the same efforts in creating a cohesive co-parenting relationship with their ex-spouse since there is usually no formal parenting plan with adult children. However, adult children need to feel that their parents are still a cohesive team with a united front regardless of how old they are. Not only is your co-parenting relationship valuable, but your co-grandparenting relationship will also influence a legacy of generations to come.
“These Age Groups Most Affected by COVD-Related Depression, Anxiety,” Hartford HealthCare article The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study by Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, reprinted edition 2001